STUDENTS CAN LEARN GREAT LESSONS when placed in decision-making roles. Simulating a Senate confirmation hearing can give students a glimpse of how government works and a chance to evaluate historical figures and issues. Any simulation, however, is an imperfect imitation of a real event. Having to make a decision based on incomplete information reveals some of the limits of our knowledge and wisdom. Middle school students wrestle with these challenges, and several others, in the following simulation.
A Qualified Choice
Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states that the president "shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States."
The news media often closely cover debates in the Senate over the nomination of Supreme Court justices, cabinet secretaries, and heads of government institutions such as the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Sometimes these hearings become heated debates, but historically, the Senate usually approves a president's choice for an appointment. If such senate hearings are ongoing during the school year, this lesson links to current events as well as to civics and history.
An ambassador is one who lives in a foreign country while officially representing his or her home nation. The appointment of ambassadors is usually not contested greatly in the Senate. Ambassadors are routinely confirmed without much discussion, but in this activity, there may be some debate among students because they receive, in the simulation, information about the candidate that could prove to be controversial. In this simulation, students must ask themselves,
* What should be the qualifications of an ambassador?
* Does the fictitious nominee, Karl B. Fennin, meet these qualifications? Why or why not?
* What else would I like to know about Mr. Fennin and his history of public service before deciding whether he is qualified to be an ambassador to France?
1. Tell students that you want them to learn about the process of appointing and confirming an ambassador to a foreign country, for example, France.
2. Select two students to write down ideas on the front board that their fellow students state about the possible qualifications of the job of ambassador. Give the whole class about five minutes to brainstorm qualifications, then have students discuss the resulting list. Do the students think it would be important for an ambassador to
* speak the language of the host nation?
* be tolerant of other ethnic groups and cultures?
* be skilled at diplomacy and negotiation?
* be loyal to his home country?
* be candid and open? (Or be demure and circumspect?)
* be known for evenhandedness and a cool temper? (Or be known as loud and aggressive?)
3. Divide the class into groups of five students each. Pass out Handout 1 about ambassadorial nominee Karl B. Fennin, and ask students to silently read it. The handout includes quotes from Mr. Fennin's writings, and it mentions a few of his activities. One might think, from reading these selections, that Mr. Fennin might be a rather narrow-minded and eccentric person.
4. Have the groups of students (i.e., the senators) develop questions to ask this ambassadorial candidate based on their list of qualifications and what they have now read about the nominee in the handout.
5. The students now act as members of the Senate subcommittee--they interview the nominee, "Karl B. Fennin," as played by the teacher. In this role, the teacher should answer questions in the spirit of Benjamin Franklin (to the best of your ability), without revealing the actual source of this persona. Each group takes turns asking a prepared question, until all of them have been asked. …