Thursday, January 05, 2006

History Books: Impeachment Not Just About Sex

With Bill Clinton's defenders constantly repeating that his impeachment was "just about sex," I was intrigued by an AP article about how history books treat the issue. If it was all about sex, how do you teach it in grade school?

Seven years after he was impeached in a scandal of sex, perjury and bitter politics, Clinton has become a fixture in major high school texts.


The House impeached Clinton on charges of lying to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice to conceal his affair with Lewinsky, a White House intern. Although he was acquitted in a Senate trial, Clinton was branded as the second president impeached for conduct in office.

The topic is covered briefly in middle school texts. McGraw Hill's "The American Journey" offers a description that is representative of other accounts - balanced and methodical.

"Although there was general agreement that the president had lied, Congress was divided over whether his actions justified impeachment," the book says.


Sometimes, the language gets blunt.

"A History of the United States," a Pearson Prentice Hall high school text, refers to the impeachment scandal as "a sorry mess" that diminished Clinton and his rivals.

Polls showed most Americans did not believe Clinton's "tortured explanations of his behavior," the book says, but also did not think his offenses warranted his removal.

By the time students get to college, the textbooks, as expected, offer more sophisticated detail of the impeachment and the way it all changed American public life.

Yet at all levels, the salacious details of the Lewinsky affair are nowhere to be found.

Middle school texts describe it as "a personal relationship between the president and a White House intern." In high school books, it is Clinton's "improper relationship with a young White House intern," or Clinton "denied having sexual relations" with an intern.

Students don't need the bawdy details to grasp the impeachment struggle, said Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian and professor at American University. But they do need textbooks that present the issue with as much depth as is practical, he said.

Perjury isn't that hard to understand. It shows the strength of the charges against President Clinton that the events can be described without "bawdy details."

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April said...

Schools never get that close to current time in history class, at best the students will learn about JFK.

Nick said...

I don't remember making it past World War II very often.