The first-ever indictment of a former U.S. president is giving social studies and civics teachers a chance to teach American history as it happens.

The opportunity is complicated, however, by the inherently divisive nature of Donald Trump.

Some educators are avoiding the subject altogether; others let their students watch Trump’s arraignment live on Tuesday.

Anton Schulzki, a high school social studies teacher in Colorado Springs, Colo., said it “turned out my class met at the same time” as Trump’s Manhattan court appearance.

“I actually had a separate plan for today, so we were able to kind of do a little bit of both. My students had some work to do and as they were doing the work, we were kind of watching what was going on. We had some informal discussions because they had some questions about, you know, how does the process work,” said Schulzki, who is also a former president of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). 

Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts in New York after prosecutors said he falsified business records related to his 2016 hush money payments to adult film performer Stormy Daniels.

The unprecedented nature of his arrest guaranteed that it made headlines — and conversations — across the country.

“I think it’s a mixture of bringing it up as a teacher and also the students bringing it up because, in here, we still do current events with kids,” said Frederick Mainhart, a high school social studies teacher in rural Pennsylvania. 

“My philosophy has always been if they want to talk about something they can bring it up as long as they follow the rules of the debate,” Mainhart added. “And I mean, it is something that they need to know: how their government system and who their political leaders might be, what they are doing and what exactly is going on with them.”

Current NCSS President Shannon Pugh said decisions could vary widely on whether and how to make lesson plans out of the Trump case, which is full of sordid details.

“Teachers should know their students and know their communities and be able to anticipate what directions most topics go and to make sure that there are structures in place that can really help shape productive conversations for students,” Pugh said.

But even with established rules in place for discussing current events — many social studies classes do it at the start of the day — it can be difficult to get students to engage in such a contentious topic.

“I have a number of students who are very hesitant to talk about controversial issues […]  I’ve really seen a lot of hesitancy and wanting to share personal opinions on controversial issues, including the former president,” said Wesley Hedgepeth, president-elect for NCSS and an AP U.S. government teacher in Virginia. 

A CNN poll found most Americans agree with Trump’s indictment, but also believe there was some political motivation behind the investigation. 

There are some classes where students, no matter the boundaries, might not do well with discussions of such controversial subjects.

“I have a lot of kids that, you know, are politically savvy. And then I have other kids that are kind of what I would call impulsive when it comes to that. Because if you talk about anything, they want to share their one-sided opinion, and they may not be willing to accept the other side,” Mainhart said.

Beyond Trump himself, however, the case offers an opportunity to discuss the ins and outs of legal procedure — and what it means to have a former president indicted while running for office again. 

Daniels, in the weeks ahead of the 2016 election, received hush money payments from Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, over an affair she said she had with the New York real estate mogul a decade earlier.

It could make for dicey classroom discussions.

“It really depends on the dynamic of the class. You have some students able to handle, talk about sensitive information like that, and then you have other students who are still kind of immature,” Mainhart said. 

While some teachers are willing and eager to navigate the Trump indictment conversation, others may be more hesitant due to the political climate in their district or state. Schools have increasingly become a partisan battleground in recent years, and educators may choose to simply skirt the subject. White House reignites GOP criticism with Afghanistan review Michael Cohen says he wasn’t vindicated by Trump charges: ‘Very sad day for America’

“There’s definitely places where teachers would probably try their very best to avoid any conversation about it and might even … deflect from students’ questions because they might fear for their job,” said Hedgepeth, president-elect for NCSC. 

Schulzki says that’s unfortunate, lamenting that students could miss out on meaningful lessons when their teachers fear reprisal.

“I feel disappointed that there are thousands of colleagues across this country that will not have the opportunity to have these conversations inside their classrooms,” he said. 

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