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.
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!
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!
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.