DAVENPORT – The impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump were, and still are, a touchy subject for many Americans — so much so that it made national news when one local high school teacher tackled the topic with her students.
Two of Tracey Downey’s 11th grade classes at Ridge Community High School – her Advanced Placement and Honors Social Studies courses – were recently featured on the CBS Evening News discussing the impeachment proceedings.
“I received an email that read CBS was looking for a teacher not afraid to teach the topic of impeachment,” Downey explained.
Downey is a member of the Bill of Rights Institute for the Social Studies Council, a group of 20 hand-selected teachers who “work to engage, educate, and empower individuals with a passion for the freedom and opportunity that exist in a free society,” according to the organization’s website. She had just filmed a webinar in her Council capacity about teaching in turbulent times and said she believes that was part of the reason she received the email.
Downey responded immediately that December evening and, within just a couple of days — and with Ridge Community Principal Steven Ely’s full support — she agreed to have CBS N News staff visit and film her class.
On the day of the news crew’s arrival, Downey and two of her students were interviewed individually. Intentionally, Downey said she hadn’t discussed the subject of impeachment or before that day.
“The night before, I sent home all the documents needed to discuss the topic and said, ‘Go home and read this and be ready to discuss,’” she explained.
Filming started in the afternoon with a question from Downey to the 27 students present: “Knowing what you know right now from all of the media reports, if you had to vote to impeach the president, how would you vote?”
Those who voluntarily raised their hands for impeachment represented about 85 percent of the class. Then, with the cameras rolling, Downey began teaching.
The class scrutinized the documents they had taken home the night before — including the United States Constitution, Federalist 65 and prior impeachment cases — over the next two hours. The discussion and documents Downey presented provided each participant with their own takeaway that day.
“The kids would make a remark and I’d say, ‘That’s so good!’,” she laughed. “I was really proud of the way they were thinking and responding.”
When the lesson was over, Downey took an anonymous vote with the same question posed,
“If you had to vote to impeach the president now, how would you vote?”
The vote had changed to 21 for “no” and six for “yes.”
“I pointed out to the students that we can’t jump to conclusions about things without the knowledge of the subject,” Downey said.
Although the original focus of the CBS report was how educators were teaching students about the impeachment, when the segment aired three weeks later it focused on the “patience and civility” with which the students and Downey discussed the touchy matter.
The nearly two-minute report was also uploaded on YouTube.
“My goal each and every day is to teach history based on the facts and the primary sources we have available to make students really think about the past,” Downey said. “When some of the YouTube responses showed us that viewers couldn’t be sure what side the lesson leaned toward, I realized we succeeded at having a solid discussion about what impeachment is.”
What happened during the class wasn’t just for the cameras, either — students said they came away with new information and informed opinions.
“I think we have to start having conversations with people like they are people,” said Kaleah Sanchez, a student who participated in the lesson. “We have to stop treating people like they are just a political party.”
To watch the CBS segment, go to https://tinyurl.com/wcn5x33.