SIOUX CITY | Not just adults are consuming the bitter, partisan battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to win the presidency on Tuesday.

For months kids have also heard about the election via social and traditional media sources, such as Twitter, Instagram and CNN. Given the sometimes coarse content, particularly Trump statements that steer toward R-rated fare, teachers need to be cautious when discussing the 2016 election in their classrooms.

"Some of the things (students) come up with are off-the-wall Facebook items to something serious they saw on the news. It has been an interesting couple of months," Sergeant Bluff-Luton teacher Clint Koedam said.

Educators said instruction has to be tailored differently to students, depending upon their ages. Some students have been circumspect in their discussions too.

Jolee Bruneau, a sophomore at Woodbury Central High School in Moville, Iowa, said teens know the controversial things Trump has said about women, including from the October release of Trump's lewd and sexually-charged comments about women caught on a hot mic in 2005. Bruneau complimented classmates for typically steering clear of the most controversial portions involving women.

"No one brings that up, because they know it will be bad business. Everyone has differing opinions, so they don't want to be rude," Bruneau said.

Jasmine Arellano is a seventh-grader at North Middle School in Sioux City. She said fifth grade is about the right cutoff for where students should be given less controversial details of the election charges.

Arellano said the topic of the election makes it into middle school social discourse outside the classroom primarily when Trump says something controversial about women. Arellano takes a Civics course from Maria Tran, where she said pupils have discussed perceptions of the candidates.

Arellano said the main perception heard is that Trump is "racist" toward minorities who will take the U.S. to depths, while Clinton is known for "lies" and problems with her use of a private email server when working as the U.S. Secretary of State.

Arellano said the key thing Tran has taught is to use critical thinking in assessing campaign news elements, and not just take the opinions of others as facts.

"It is the truth that counts," Arellano said. "Why say (repeat) things that aren't true, from people's minds that are all messed up?"

Koedam teaches several sections of Social Studies to seventh-graders at Sergeant Bluff-Luton Middle School. Koedam said there have been some presidential election topics that are considered off the table for school.

"The thing I reminded myself is that it is not up to me to censor what students are exposed to and allowed to discuss in class, when it comes to the government they will live under and be a part of some day. My job was to frame these items in a way that made them school-appropriate and handle the issues in a serious manner," Koedam said.

Koedam said students handled questionable topics "with a great deal of maturity," once he framed them age-appropriately. Even the more controversial issues could be packaged into learning lessons.

"No, I didn't spend an entire class discussing the leaked Trump video about women, but we did discuss the importance of treating people with respect, regardless of gender. The truth, to me, is that the students are owed the truth about their potential government leaders," Koedam said.

The University of Northern Iowa is the college that graduates the most new teachers in the state. UNI College of Education Professor Nick Pace is a former social studies teacher and principal who has raptly watched the presidential race play out.

"Teaching is hard work, period. Political figures, entertainers and athletes make the job even tougher when they say and do things that wouldn't be allowed at school and that don't meet expectations of respect, civility, honesty -- the kinds of things emphasized at schools all the time. Kids see the TV commercials and the newspaper," Pace said.

Jan George, who teaches American Government at West High School in Sioux City, is tickled that students on their own often raise election topics.

"Its really cool for them to ask me what I think about what they heard," he said. "...I don’t care what party they are affiliated with, I just want them to be involved."

George said his goal is to get the students to feel an obligation to vote. He follows a tip from a D.C. political reporter for pupils to inform themselves well.

"We talk about how to research a candidate, where to go to find out about them... Listen to the candidate, just don’t rely on the media to provide the information for you," George said.

George said it takes the right approach to talk about some of the most charged election topics, such as gender and sex.

"It’s tough to talk about some things, but at the same time I don’t think we should ignore what the real word is like. With social media and the internet, the students are much more informed. I think it’s important to have the students discuss issues, which I think we can do that with tact," George said.

Pace said teachers typically have a good sense of the election issues students are ready to deal with at particular ages. He said it all works best when parents are involved at home too.

"I think in the early grades, an understanding of how the process works makes sense," Pace said.

"As students grow older, they're ready for more detailed and sophisticated information about different political philosophies and ideas. By the time they're in high school, we're not doing them any favors if we shy away from the front-and-center issues we face. We want engaged, informed, participating citizens after high school."

Bruneau said the topic of the presidential race doesn't come up much in her social circle at school, but recently it has almost daily in the World History course taught by Stan Galloway. She said Galloway created a list of candidates as each person entered the presidential race over 2015, and then struck them off the list of more than 20 people as they dropped out.

Bruneau said Galloway also helpfully framed the election, via recaps of issues and statements by such people as Trump and Bernie Sanders.

"He doesn't choose a side, because he is a teacher, of course," Bruneau said.

At Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Koedam teaches about how the political parties grew into the role they have in today's governmental system. Students participated in an online quiz to figure out what party their personal views align with. The SB-L pupils also learned the process to register to vote and then carry out balloting.

More specifically to the 2016 race, Koedam and the students watched and discussed portions of all three presidential debates.

"The candidates themselves bring a high interest due to the dynamics between the two of them and the amount of negative media attention. I was very excited as a large number of students watched the debates from start to finish. We also watch a current events news show a couple times a week, which has kept the election in the forefront," Koedam said.


County and education reporter

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