High school government teachers can predict the chorus of student complaints that will await them Thursday morning, after their kids watch the final presidential debate Wednesday night.
“They didn’t talk about the issues,” the students will likely say after viewing the final televised showing between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
Government teachers often ask high school students to tune in to presidential debates at home as a homework assignment. This year many of those students have reported back to class the following day that they didn’t glean much from the exercise.
Tony Nardini, who teaches advanced placement government to seniors at St. Xavier High School, first thought the reality-television style of the presidential debates would make them more appealing to students.
But it didn’t.
“I thought this is something they would be really into, an Apprentice-style debate,” Nardini said. “But it has turned a lot of them off which surprised me. Instead they ask, ‘Are they going to talk about the issues at some point?’”
And government teachers have found themselves fielding questions from curious 17- and 18-year olds about uncomfortable topics, such as the video of Donald Trump’s lewd talk about women.
“They were asking a lot of questions about the Trump tape with Billy Bush,” said Caitlin Rudisell, who teaches government classes at Taylor High School in Cleves. “I said, ‘We can’t listen to it, it’s not appropriate.’”
Still, area teachers like Rudisell have found ways to encourage more substantive conversation in the classroom.
Following the vice presidential debate, for example, students pointed out in discussion that both Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine sometimes contradicted their running mates, Trump and Clinton, throughout the evening.
Rudisell has spent time with the students researching statements the candidates made and fact checking them. During the debates, she also requires the students to write two or three notable comments that each candidate made.
“A lot of the times they just want to talk about the drama – they get sucked into the drama,” Rudisell said.
Even those headlines are getting stale, though.
“Some of them will go, ‘Oh man, I’m going to watch (the debate) because of the grade or extra credit but I’m so sick of hearing the same thing over and over again.' They’re over the emails, the tax returns.”
For Rick Robisch, who has taught government classes at Norwood High School for 11 years, this election year has made teaching a little bit easier in some ways.
Every year, he spends class time explaining to students how the country’s two-party system controls much of the election process – from the primaries to the two nominees. This year, he has a good example to illustrate why that can be a problem.
“This election has two candidates that are typically not really well-liked, but there’s no viable choice because of the way the system is set up,” Robisch said.
And even the students who aren’t old enough to vote are somehow feeling pangs of voter fatigue before ever casting a ballot.
Peter Fossett has been teaching history for 17 years. But this election he noticed a very different reaction from his senior American government class at Cincinnati Country Day School.
“This election cycle is triggering some really intense feelings among students that previous election cycles didn’t trigger,” Fossett said.
Despite his best efforts – his students will simulate a presidential debate in front of the entire school, for example – his class isn’t as enthusiastic about the real-life election.
“I’m seeing more kids this year who just want it to be done,” Fossett said. “The ways the kids are responding is probably very similar to how grownups are responding to this election.”