Communication Skills

Connecting Students with the World at Large

December 14, 2014

I am a San Marino High School (CA) social studies teacher who for the past fifteen years has aligned my US Government course curriculum to the California State Content Standards.  Additionally, I have incorporated into each of my classes discussions of current local, national, and international news and events.

Jackie Lacey with student

To deepen student understanding, I created the SMHS Civic Learning Meet and Greet Program where students enrolled in my US Government class have opportunities to hear and learn from individuals appearing in either the textbook or the newspaper and who are connected to the subjects of government, law, history, politics, and education.

A typical “Meet and Greet” is designed to last no more that 50 minutes. It is formatted similar to a television talk show with the host, sometimes a student, sometimes the editor-in-chief of our town's local newspaper, and sometimes me, opening the “Meet and Greet” by asking a number of introductory questions before giving the students a chance to ask questions of their own.

Most often, speakers appear in person before the class for the interview, though on occasion, guests have also been interviewed remotely via speakerphone and/or videoconference call.

Suggested guidelines if you want to bring the Civic Learning Meet and Greet Program to your school:

1. Invite your guest to speak before one class of students only. Most individuals are more than open to a no-more-than one hour time commitment. And if you teach multiple periods of US Government, as I do, I simply brief the other classes in detail afterwards as to how things went. In the alternative, you could videotape the Meet and Greet and then share it with your other periods.

2. Consider having your host ask the introductory questions appearing below:

  • Briefly describe what you do for a living?
  • What is the best and worst parts of your job
  • Regarding your work, of what accomplishment are you most proud?
  • Where did you go to high school? While a senior in high school, what did you tell people you wanted to be when you grew up?

3.  Ensure that your students ask high quality follow-up questions. To do so, I suggest first going to the internet to learn everything you can about your guest, then drafting the follow-up questions, taking what you learned on the internet and what you cover in class into account. Then I also suggest sharing the questions you’ve drafted with your students, checking to see if any of your students would like to be the one to ask one or more of these questions. Additionally, I would suggest giving your students a chance to create follow-up questions of their own. I prefer to have students show me their questions for my approval before being given a go, as I’m not a big fan of letting students ask follow-up questions that haven’t been first cleared with me (although this is not a line-in-the-sand requirement.)

Individuals who have participated in a Civic Learning Meet and Greet include:

  • Alan Jackson (prosecuting attorney, Phil Spector murder trial)
  • Alan Steinbrecher (President, LA Bar Association)
  • Ben Bradlee (Editor-in-Chief Washington Post) via meeting after Distinguished Speaker presentation in Pasadena
  • Bill Clinton (President); via meeting after Cal Tech presentation
  • Carol Liu (CA State Senator)
  • Carl Douglas (Attorney, OJ Simpson)
  • Daniel Schnur (Director, Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, USC)
  • Dave Gordon (Superintendent, Sacramento County School District) via speakerphone
  • Donald Segretti, (Watergate figure)
  • Dorothy Nelson (U.S. 9th Circuit Judge); via in chambers meeting
  • Ed Chau (CA State Assemblyman)
  • G. Gordon Liddy (Watergate figure) via speakerphone
  • Gregory Lee Johnson (Petitioner: Texas v. Johnson) via speakerphone
  • Jackie Lacey (Los Angeles County District Attorney)
  • John Schaefer (City Manager, former Chief of Police, SM)
  • Kim McLane Wardlaw (U.S. 9th Circuit Judge)
  • Manny Medrano (celebrity lawyer)
  • Mark Geragos (celebrity lawyer)
  • Michael Newdow (Petitioner: Newdow vs. Elk Grove Unified School District) via videoconference
  • Mike Eng (CA Assemblyman)
  • Ming Chin (1st ever Asian appointed to CA State Supreme Court)
  • Norma McCorvey (Petitioner: Roe v. Wade) via speakerphone

A sampling of follow-up questions asked by students includes:

  • Ben Bradlee: Who was Deep Throat?
  • Carl Douglas: Do you think the criminal justice system discriminate against African-Americans? Do you think OJ Simpson murdered his ex wife and the Mezzaluna waiter Ron Goldman.
  • G. Gordon Liddy: You were convicted of burglary, conspiracy and refusing to testify to the Senate committee investigating Watergate and consequently served nearly fifty-two months in federal prison. Do you think you were punished fairly? How do you feel about President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon?
  • Jackie Lacey: Do you support California Proposition 47, the proposition that sought to redefine some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors, rather than felonies, as they had previously been categorized? Do you think marijuana should be legalized for recreational purposes?
  • Michael Newdow: Aside from your belief that recitations of the current version of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools in the United States should be declared unconstitutional because of its inclusion of the phrase "under God" do you also believe that the phrase “in God we trust” should be removed from our paper currency?
  • Norma McCorvey: Long before the US Supreme Court ruled in your favor in the case of Roe v. Wade, you gave birth to a baby that was placed for adoption. Have you ever been reunited with that child; any interest? Do you think minor females should be required to get parental consent to have an abortion?

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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  • Social Studies/History
  • 9-12 High School

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