One concern since the Monica Lewinsky story first broke last January has been its message to the young: the president's discredited status as role model, parents' need to censor the news.
With the release of Kenneth Starr's report on Sept. 11 - nearly coinciding with the opening of school - that concern burst into the nation's classrooms. How to teach the important lessons flowing from this late 20th century test of American democracy - without getting detoured into sexual byways that have no place in the classroom?
From what we've read so far, lots of teachers - primarily of 9th grade and up - are finding ways to zero in on the moral and governmental questions raised by Starr's findings. They say they're being selective in what parts of the report they examine. They're also being creative in using the lens of literature, history, or philosophy to view the current crisis. And sometimes the students themselves steer discussion away from seamy detail to sub- stance.
Engaging the country's youth in a discussion of morality and its relationship to leadership - to winning and holding the respect of others and of yourself - is no mean accomplishment. The teachers who take on the task should be highly commended. Volumes have been written about the moral decay of American society. Parents, educators, and social commentators have worried aloud that youngsters are getting a distorted view of right and wrong from popular entertainment, and from each other.
Ironically, today's scandal may be the means of launching discussions of its antitheses: moral responsibility, justice, reformation, and forgiveness. If young Americans are encouraged to start thinking about such matters, this sorry, demoralizing episode may yet yield some moral benefit.