Embracing Democracy…in the Classroom

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a number of stunning claims about the viability of democracy. Can the United States survive the 2020 election?

To disrupt this narrative and to empower my students, I decided to bring democracy back to my high school classroom.

After Tuesday night’s “debate,” I told students that we’d be talking about presidential debates. They shared concerned looks. Many students had watched much of the fiasco, and they were not interested in reliving it. I don’t blame them!

Instead, I showed them a clip from the first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama in 2008.

Three minutes of unadulterated ethos and logos.

We watched about three minutes of a rather mundane exchange between McCain and Obama on the need to cut spending to clear the way for a response to the 2008 financial crisis.

When the clip was over, one student immediately said: “That was boring.”

I don’t entirely disagree.

We unpacked it using the rhetorical triangle and students quickly started to see the ways in which the candidates were maneuvering. McCain moved to a discussion of defense spending because he’s a war hero: who would know defense spending better than he? Obama, however, moved to healthcare because this was his signature policy issue.

They also liked how cordial things were and how the moderator, Jim Lehrer, pressed each candidate on their answer.

Most of all, though, they noted how Barack Obama admitted that “John’s right; we’ve got to make some cuts.” They couldn’t imagine hearing something like that in a debate this year.

Then, I told them a story about John McCain. During a rally, just a few weeks before the election, he’s passing the microphone to folks in the audience, and he fields a couple of questions from supporters who believe that Obama traffics with domestic terrorists and that he’s “an Arab” (as if this is an insult). In both cases, McCain takes the mic from the supporter and reassures them. He tells them that Obama is a decent man, and that they don’t have to be afraid if he’s president.

McCain fundamentally respected Obama as a human being. Obama did the same for McCain. During that debate clip above, they listen to each other and they listen to Jim Lehrer.

Because they're all human beings!

“In a democracy,” I told my students, “We must listen to each other. We must pay attention to what the other side is saying. Otherwise, we’ll never really find the best solution.”

I then presented to them two alternative grading strategies (as I will need to report a grade for each of these students in the next couple of weeks). I opened the floor for debate and allowed them to discuss the merits of each grading strategy. After a few students shared their thoughts, we took a vote.

“Who is in favor of Option #1?” I said.

Some students raised their hands.

“Who is in favor of Option #2?”

Many more students raised their hands.

“Then, that’s it,” I said. “Option #2 it is.”

This Week on ROOTED

I am working on an experiment in my classroom. This post gives you a little peek into it, but there’s much more to come!

The Death of Rigor: Searching for a Better Classroom Environment
Are we creating rigorous classrooms where there is only one way through, a narrow channel that is always predetermined, no matter the student’s needs?

From Around the Web

This week's links don't revolve around any kind of theme. They are good resources and thoughtful pieces! That's the theme...

I do want to highlight the Human Restoration Project. Now that is an education website after my own teacher heart! Their handbooks (see the first link) are just the tip of the iceberg there. So much to offer!

Handbooks — Human Restoration Project - Progressive Education Nonprofit
<p>The <strong>Human Restoration Project</strong> (HRP) is an educational movement to transform school systems, restoring students as human beings rather than a vessel for standards. Founded in 2018 by educators Michael Payne and Chris McNutt, HRP contains reformative school resources, personalized …
Margaret Barron (@msbarron19) - Wakelet
Public Collections from Margaret Barron. Apple Teacher Air Force Brat 🇺🇸 1st Gen American🇲🇽🇰🇷 Band Mom🎷Skate Mom🛹 Google Certified Educator | Wakelet Community Leader | Anti-Racist Teacher | #BlackLivesMatter
Check out the antiracist resources here! Thanks, Margaret!
Supporting remote students in a hybrid/concurrent class
Below is feedback from a variety of remote high school students attending my school where the vast majority of their peers are on campus and in physical classrooms. Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gou…
The Role Social-Emotional Learning Plays in Teaching White Children About Race - EdSurge News
One night when I was in graduate school, I stayed up late talking with a friend. Our conversation meandered from one topic to another, and I ended up ...
When school’s out, education might suffer less than you think - The Boston Globe
Losing their exposure to academic content doesn’t necessarily diminish students’ intellectual development.

Favorite Tweet This Week

The following tweet from Dr. Bryan Daniel reminds me of many of my own committee experiences. For both our classrooms and our various committees that we lead, we need to think about how to make our time together meaningful and productive.