THEY SAY VERMONT IS a rather insulated state, but it's not, I'm afraid, insulated quite enough. So, like every other middle school teacher in the country, I know that as school resumes I'll have no chance of avoiding an avalanche of difficult questions and smart remarks from my students regarding the president of the United States.
In fact, I may get more commentary than most teachers. For one thing, I teach seventh- and eighth-grade social studies, so my realm is civics, the Constitution, law and U.S. history. Also, I'm a member of a four-teacher team, which means we have our students for two years.One of the most exciting things about working with 11- to 14-year-olds is that they are wonderfully candid, far more worldly and streetwise than baby boomers like me were at that age. They have a built-in intuitiveness that, at times, will make even the most confident teacher squirm.
So in the Clinton situation we have, in educational jargon, a "teachable moment." I imagine that questions will fall into three categories.
One, there will be students who mostly know what they have heard from adult conversations of the "we have to be careful what we say" variety. These students will also have watched television, read newspaper accounts and maybe even cracked Time or Newsweek - looking for answers to legitimate questions, to be sure, but also looking for the "spicy details." They will be trying, overtly or subtly, to pull information from me that they can't quite get at home.
Second, there will be students who think they already have all the lurid details - and what they don't know, they will make up. These students too will not be afraid to ask questions about the real or imagined versions of the story.
And third, there will be students who are looking for laughs or sensationalism. I will do my best to evaluate quickly the nature of their questions. If a question is not appropriate, I'll decline to com-ment.
There might be a fourth group to contend with as well: concerned parents, who will call to ask me what the general topic of discussion was in the classroom and why I felt it was necessary to explain something they might not have chosen for their children to hear.
My reply will be: "I am trying to tell what I believe is the truth. If I can't or don't answer students' questions honestly, their respect for me goes out the window."
In short, yes, I'm expecting plenty of questions from the students about lies, cover-ups, "how could he do such a thing in the White House?" and so on. But even in this sordid scandal, there are important things to talk about - betrayal, the role of the presidency, restoring confidence. And we shouldn't forget that among those who need their confidence restored are our young people.
But in this teachable moment, what I absolutely do know is that I will talk about trust. After all, isn't family, political and public trust what the whole presidential mess boils down to?