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Presidential election fiasco is opportunity to teach

November 19, 2000

Presidential election fiasco is opportunity to teach



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


There's more than a presidency riding on the Florida election results. There's extra credit.

Teacher Walter Duke asked students in his government classes at Hedgesville (W.Va.) High School to predict the state-by-state winners of the Nov. 7 election. The object was to score better than him.

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Nearly two weeks later, there's no winner and no extra credit. His students are on a 10-day fall break and it's unclear if the matter will be settled before they return.

But teachers across the Tri-State area aren't complaining.

Election Day 2000 and the political and legal wrangling that followed produced the ultimate "teachable moment."

It has transformed the Electoral College process from boring textbook trivia into the subject of vigorous classroom debate as fast as they can say "chad."

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Rossana Larrick laughs when she says the word to her 11th grade American history students.

"This is a new term for Americans," she said.

Like many of her fellow teachers, Larrick has set aside class time almost daily to talk about the latest wrinkles in the battle between Bush and Gore over the election results in Florida.

Every student in her class knows how many electoral votes Florida has: 25.

But no one could predict the outcome of the election, although some in Friday's class tried.

"We could have two presidents," said Bridgette Schnur.

While it's been a great opportunity to teach students about the Electoral College process, many students are ready for the drama to end, said Ed Koogle, supervisor of social studies at the Washington County Board of Education.

"We have instant drinks and microwaves and cell phones and beepers. We want instant gratification with the election process," Koogle said.

Teachers have to explain that the Founding Fathers set up the system to be deliberate and not fast. Even in a smooth election, the president isn't officially chosen until the Electoral College meets the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. This year it's Dec. 18.

The system is not easy to understand.

"We have adults walking around that didn't understand it until this election," Koogle said.

Jeff Bailey, who's in charge of the social studies department at Hancock Middle-High School, tells his students they are watching history in action.

"This is something you'll probably never see again in your lifetime. Something that you can tell your grandchildren about," he said.

The last time a current event raised so much interest was the O.J. Simpson trial. That case provided an opportunity to teach about the legal system, he said.

"It's like a giant history lesson or civics lesson," said Rob Beaumont, principal at Greencastle-Antrim (Pa.) High School.

Students are switching on CNN, reading the newspaper and even following the hour-by-hour changes over the Internet, said Gary Shook, history teacher at Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School.

"I hope it carries over. I hope the interest will carry into the next election," Shook said.

Just like the American people, students are divided in their opinions about how the election should be resolved.

Duke asked his classes if the issue should be resolved by a re-vote in some counties or the whole state of Florida. In one of his classes, two-thirds voted yes. In another class, only one student supported that idea.

One thing is for sure, history has shown that whoever is elected president is going to have a difficult time.

"The winner will be a loser with half the country mad at you," Duke said.

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