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Government, Politics Come to Life in the Classroom

C-SPAN Classroom video clips and discussion questions boost students’ interest in civics and politics

MORE THAN A YEAR BEFORE THE 2008 presidential election, it was not uncommon for many students—and adults, for that matter—to be familiar with just the few frontrunners dominating the headlines. But that’s not the case in the speech and debate classes that Kamela Bates teaches at Center Senior High School in South Kansas City, Mo.

Using video clips from the C-SPAN Classroom web site, her students have the opportunity to compare what all of the candidates have to say—and how they say it. Students analyze the style and the substance of rousing speeches at political rallies and folksy conversations around the kitchen tables of potential voters. They carefully observe how policy positions evolve, and what issues a candidate may or may not emphasize in a speech—depending on the audience.

"My students see candidates
in a whole new light."

“My students see candidates in a whole new light,” Bates says. “And they’ve really started discussing the issues.”

Bates is one of more than 14,000 teachers who bring government and politics to life for their students through the use of Teachers who register have access to a fully searchable database of C-SPAN video clips that can be streamed or downloaded. The copyright-cleared video clips, discussion questions and worksheets are linked to national standards. New video clips are added regularly, and teachers can search for them by keyword, speaker or teaching concept. “The fact that it’s free,” Bates says, “is always a plus.”

Bates uses much more than just the campaign resources offered by C-SPAN Classroom. She finds the five-minute C-SPAN Classroom “clips of the week” to be great discussion starters because “they help provide a visual to reinforce topics being addressed,” Bates says.

When teaching about parliamentary procedure, Bates shows students in her debate class five-minute segments from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. “They get a feel for how people use the rules of order, who can talk when, and what kinds of things you might put into a speech,” she says.

Video clips on the web site are organized by six major topic areas: Principles of government; U.S. Constitution; Legislative Branch; Executive Branch; Judicial Branch; and Political Participation. This fall, the Executive Branch topic featured a fiveminute segment during which President Bush discussed the No Child Left Behind Act and urged legislators to reauthorize it. Discussion questions focused on the goals of the Act as well as the role of the president in promoting legislation. Students talked about the standardized tests they were about to take in a much broader context.

C-SPAN StudentCam, an annual documentary competition, invites students to creatively explore current issues of national significance. The documentaries, up to 10-minutes long, include C-SPAN programming and original footage created by the students.

Ever since she discovered last year, Bates has been spreading the word. She was so enthusiastic about the program that she applied to the C-SPAN’s Middle and High School Teacher Fellowship program. The fellowship allowed her to spend four weeks in Washington, D.C., getting an insider’s view of C-SPAN and helping to making its educational programming even better. When she returned, she began sharing the benefits of C-SPAN classroom with teachers in her school and with debate teachers in other districts.

What impresses Bates most, she says, is the impact it has on students, especially seniors who will soon be voting for the first time.

“The apathy goes out the window and they can see that their voice can really be heard and that they can make a difference,” Bates says. “That’s the real inspiration for me.”

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