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Dublin High’s Ron Rubio on the History of Elections as the 113th Congress Begins

January 1, 2013
Eric Swalwell - Dublin High School Graduation Ceremony

Eric Swalwell

Over 100 Eric Swalwell supporters are converging on the nation’s capitol this week to attend a first for Dublin High School and the City of Dublin. On Thursday January 3, Dublin High School Class of 1999 alumni Eric Swalwell (congressman-elect, California 15th Congressional District) along with the 113th Congress will be sworn into office. Swalwell’s guests will be treated to a ceremonial swearing-in led by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, dinner at Tortilla Coast (the same restaurant Eric worked at as a server while he was an intern for former Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher) and a tour of the Capitol. will be attending and documenting the event. Follow us on Twitter ( to join us, virtually, in Washington D.C.

To prepare for the Washington D.C. trip, spoke with Dublin High School history teacher Ron Rubio about the recent election cycle, and teaching history in an age of instant access to information. Looking back, this year’s election was described as one of the ugliest elections in history. Is that really true or were elections just as nasty – if not nastier – when you look back 100 years or more?

Dublin High School History Teacher Ron Rubio

Ron Rubio

Ron Rubio: “We always think the times we live in ‘set the bar’ for things. We view our political discourse as very harsh and negative, yet it is fairly tame by historical standards. When Thomas Jefferson ran for president in 1800 an opposing newspaper in Connecticut printed that if he won ‘murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil will be soaked with blood, the nation black with crimes.’ The newspaper offered an apology 180 years later, in 1980!

“When Jefferson ran for re-election in 1804 a big election topic was his affair with teenage slave Sally Hemings and the birth of his illegitimate children by her! Pretty controversial compared to calling Mr. Obama a ‘socialist’ or accusing Mr. Romney of animal cruelty for having his dog ride on top of a car in a dog crate. When John Quincy Adams ran for re-election in the 1830’s he was accused of, among other things, as being ‘a spendthrift’, ‘miser’, ‘skinflint’, ‘pimp for the Czar of Russia’ a ‘drunkard’ and my favorite, a’ sabbath breaker’!” We hear expressions like “it was an historic election” just about every time there is an election; what do you think it takes for something to become “historic”?

Rubio: “Every election people live through is viewed as an historic election because the issues of their time are important to them. Looking back at all of our elections with the passage of time we can see very few that are truly ‘historic’. What makes an election historic can be several factors: a political realignment like with Reagan in the 80’s and the advent of ‘Reagan Democrats’ is one, and the New deal and a Democratic majority that held for over 30 years is another.

“Aside from political coalitions, if there is some type of cultural or political change that take the country in a different direction like the New Deal, Teddy Roosevelt’s progressivism at the turn of the century, or the Great Society of LBJ, or Reagan in the 80’s, that would also make for an Historic election. If things change and are never the same again due to an election–that is an historic election. We have had maybe 10 -12 of those in our history.

“Another thing to look at is a ‘successful’ Presidency and what makes it successful. Harry Truman was regarded as a complete failure when he left office in the 1950’s. Now 50 years later he is usually viewed as one of our strongest leaders. He had a lower approval rating in the 50’s than Mr. Bush did when he left office 4 years ago. Nixon is now being looked at far more fondly as a President as is LBJ and Gerald Ford than they ever were during or after their administrations.” You introduced two interesting Dublin High School electives a couple of years ago, “America in the 1960’s” and “Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in America“; what inspired you to bring this time period into the curriculum?

Rubio: “While I taught at Moreau High School in Hayward for 12 years, I authored my Civil War and Ethnic and Cultural Diversity class. The best high school teacher (and coach) I have ever encountered taught a class ‘America in the 60’s’. The kids spoke well of it and I always felt the subject matter would be fun to teach. Given I was brought up in the 60’s and all the cultural/ historical / political change and turmoil that existed, it seemed a natural for an elective. After I was at Dublin High School for a few years, I proposed the class. Although the subject is the same, the two classes are taught very differently. I just thought the information of the time would be very fun to teach and the kids would find it very interesting. We can discuss things you don’t have time to cover in a required history class.

“What with the ‘test score mania’ that has hit public education, teachers no longer have the flexibility to discuss cultural topics such as music, sports, entertainment, politics and the different personalities of a time period that make history so interesting and fun. An elective like this allows you to do that.” How do AP courses differ from regular classes, and specific to this course, what can students entering this course expect?

Rubio: “AP classes are a whole other world as compared to regular classes. Students and parents really have no idea until they have experienced how very different AP classes are, which is why it is important for 9th and 10th graders, and AP ‘rookies’, to attend the AP night led by Dublin High Counseling. Students really need to listen when the workload is discussed. The scope of the information presented and the speed it must be digested by the student is nothing like a regular class.

“In a class like AP U.S. History or AP Government and Politics I do not think the curriculum is very difficult, but the workload that is required to be successful is way beyond a regular class. It takes a great work ethic and a great deal of maturity from the student. In my course acceptance letter to the kids I liken my AP U.S. History class to the Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs is rolling down a snowy mountain. He rolls faster and faster and gets bigger and bigger until he crashes into a tree! Simply put, AP classes are a dramatic increase in work, but rewarding for the kids who have the work ethic and maturity to accept the challenge.” As a history teacher, do you take advantage of family vacations, like a trip to Washington D.C., to infuse some living history? Do you have advice for parents that would like to do the same?

Rubio: “I hate to admit it but we have taken many ‘Historic Vacations’! But I am proud to say that after, the entire family was very happy and regards them as our best vacations!

“We did a Lewis and Clark Trail trip, driving to Portland and then following the trail to Great Falls, Montana. We also did a side stop at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. On another occasion we went back east to Pennsylvania and spent several days in Gettysburg, 3 nights on a Mennonite farm in Amish Country and 3 nights in DC. We also worked in a trip to visit family in Texas with trips to the Alamo, Bracketville where John Wayne built a scale model of the Alamo for his movie… (I know this one is a little obsessive) and a trip to Delay Plaza where JFK was shot.

“I would wholeheartedly advise parents to do the same! But remember it is a vacation so the kids need to have fun, but they need to know what they are viewing and why it is significant. In the case of my kids, the stories of the Alamo and battles of the Civil war were their bedtime stories, so they grew up having a context. The people at the Alamo or at the Little Big Horn or at Gettysburg were all characters my kids already knew and they were places they had heard about.

“In a normal non-obsessive family, the parents should research a bit to explain to the kids what they are seeing and why it is interesting and fun to see. Not why it is ‘important’. It is also very important to get out of the car and walk as much as possible. We walked the entire Monument loop in DC. My kids complained the entire time but now they say it was a highlight of their stay in D.C. We walked the entire battlefield of Shiloh and Gettysburg, again complaints at the time, and now they universally say it was a great thing to do.

“Parents should read up and research a bit where they want to go and find a movie or story their kids might like to watch or a story to read before they go, so the kids have a frame of reference. Just let the kids have fun and it should fine.” Finally, are you finding that today’s students, with the instant access to information provided by the Internet and the success of movies like Lincoln, more engaged in history than when you were a student?

Rubio: “I have been teaching for over 35 years and I do not see kids any more engaged now than when I started. The Internet doesn’t make things more interesting, and there have always been historical movies. The new technology (such as PowerPoint) does allow teachers to put faces and places to what they are discussing in class. There is much more access to information for students and more images at their fingertips, but I don’t think that equates to more interest or engagement. That has to come from the kid themselves, their families or an interesting teacher / class.”