Friday, October 17, 2008
The Presidency’ class prepares for the election
“The Presidency” course at Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) “is a demanding class, half history, half political science, and participation in class is high, said Carlisle junior Georgia Guttadauro. “It’s a great time to take this class since it’s an election year.”
CCHS teacher Tracy Davies wanted to offer a course that would capture students’ attention on government and current events. She designed the course in the fall of 2001 and has taught it as long as George W. Bush has been in office. “I was fascinated by the presidency,” she explained, adding, “I love politics.” She believed a course on this subject would excite students, and it has.” “The Presidency” class has three sections, with a total of about 70 students.
Several of the students interviewed for this article said they took the course because it was so highly recommended. Carlisle senior Siobhan Galligan had heard good things about the course and “thought it would be very exciting.” Guttadauro took the class because previous students told her it was the most rewarding class they had taken, which is quite an endorsement with all the choices at CCHS.
Six outstanding presidents
In class, students learn about the founding of the presidency, why the founding fathers gave the president certain powers and how specific presidents re-defined their position. Davies focuses on six presidents who significantly changed the presidency – Washington, Jefferson, both Roosevelts, Lincoln and Jackson. Students delve into the election process and do case studies on successes and failures of specific presidents. They also look into the psychological make-up of the presidents, for this too affects how they govern and make decisions.
As students cover the historical part of the course, they research and debate past and current events. Recent debates have centered on Lincoln’s use of wartime powers, and whether the Electoral College should be replaced.
“I have learned a lot,” Galligan commented. “I really like this class because it is both a history course along with the current role of the presidency. The juxtaposition of the two is great.” Carlisle senior Miranda Morrison said, “I always wanted to be more politically aware.” Her new awareness of current events has stimulated greater interest in U.S. history. Davies has discovered that, “The students eat up both history and current events. The combination works very well.”
The course has several objectives. Davies hopes her students will catch the political bug, that they will vote and follow the news. A few of her previous students have worked on political campaigns, and several still keep in touch with her years after leaving CCHS. Her present students are catching the political bug as well. Guttadauro said, “Before, I didn’t know anything about presidents or the election process. I’m a lot more interested than I was before.” Morrison agreed: “I didn’t bother to listen to the primaries. I didn’t have a view of Obama and McCain. The course makes me want to be involved.” Carlisle senior Carolyn Tobin said, “It’s really interesting. I pick up more as I learn about it.”
Class participation is critical to the course. “Some in class were already political junkies,” Guttadauro noted. “Everyone voices their views in class. We hear liberal and conservative sides; we are very open in class.” Davies is pleased that “there is high participation in class. [Students] have strong opinions they want to share, but they are very respectful of others’ opinions. It enhances the class when kids have different views.”
Studying the debates
One of the major assignments was to watch one of the debates, write a critique and discuss views in class. Galligan enjoyed “hearing a lot of different positions I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. The 20-odd kids give out different opinions. They focus on things I didn’t notice.” Tobin said, “It was a lot of fun to apply what we learned to what we were watching. I look at the candidates differently now.” Davies observed, “The kids are very open-minded and perceptive. They notice the phony stuff and when candidates don’t answer the questions that were asked. They are also looking for common courtesy [between the candidates.]”
No one thought the class had a bias and students praised Davies for her teaching. Especially important is that Davies does not take a political side. Tobin said, “We are not pushed towards a candidate.” Galligan said, “There are vocal people on both sides of the spectrum.” Guttadauro complimented Davies’s sense of humor: “She picks on both candidates. Her humor makes the class enjoyable.” Students commented that they watched and discussed the debates with one of their parents. Morrison said, “I discuss things with my Dad a lot. I definitely discussed the two debates with him.” Guttadauro and Tobin said that communication with their parents had increased as they discussed the debates and current events.
An experienced teacher
Davies has taught at CCHS for the past 15 years. “Right now,” she said, “I am on three-quarters time to accommodate motherhood, so I have only three classes and they are all ‘The Presidency.’” Previously she taught U.S. history in the spring to sophomores and “long ago” taught a freshman course on World Cultures.
Davies earned her undergraduate degree in history at Williams College and her master’s degree in teaching at Boston University. She took a graduate course on the presidency at B.U. that fueled her interest in teaching the subject to high school students.
Future new voters
As in any great course, this is a journey of discovery for students. “As I broaden my base of knowledge and come up with information on my own, I am discovering my own opinion,” commented Galligan. “Before, I hated politics,” admitted Guttadauro. “I didn’t know the running mates, never saw debates, didn’t watch the news. Now
I find articles to read. [My interest] has extended beyond the class.” Morrison hoped that she would continue to read the news avidly after the course ends.
“The Presidency” is not a course for slackers. In fact, said Davies, “It’s a rigorous course, and the kids are academically prepared for college. They read and write all the time. There are a lot of debates over an issue.”
All the students interviewed agreed it was a lot of work. “It’s the most demanding history class I’ve taken here,” said Tobin. But Morrison added, “It doesn’t feel like a lot of work because it’s interesting. It takes a lot of energy but it is very fun.” Guttadauro agreed: “The class work is really hard and really demanding, but it’s really worth it. I don’t mind doing the work, I’m enjoying it.”
None of Davies’s students interviewed will be of voting age by Election Day. All confessed true disappointment at this fact and are looking forward to voting in the future. ∆
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito