Well, that’s 90 minutes of my life that I’ll never have again.
Last night (Tuesday), I stayed up and watched the entire United States Presidential Debate. It’s not like I have a horse in the race in November but it’s nice to know what’s happening in the world. I have many friends in the United States and I’ve been involved in a number of educational events to the south over the years.
In particular, I have a friend in Iowa who I have a standing discussion with when it comes to politics. He tries to explain US politics to me and I try to explain Canadian politics to him. We’re never at a loss of topics to discuss.
I had no idea what to expect last night but I certainly didn’t expect to witness the extent of what I saw. The news reviews and the social media discussion today pretty much aligned with my feelings.
Surprisingly, the sharpest of the criticism went to the moderator of the event, Chris Wallace. His inability to keep Donald Trump and Joe Biden on topic was fodder for commentators. But, you can only work with the tools that you’re given. Presumably both political camps had agreed on a particular format.
My friend Angela Maiers noted “Chris Wallace needs to use his teachers voice!”. I think all of us teachers know of our voice; it’s what keeps the lid on things in the classroom. It is only functional if there is some level of fear or better, respect. Clearly, there was non expected or given last night. Given the television media, it seems that a mute button would have been the only effective way to gain control. Even the supposedly two minute spot for each candidate to state their position on an issue wasn’t respected.
I’m not completely new to the concept of debating. In secondary school, I became a member of the Debate Team, thinking that it might help me out somewhere, someplace. And, of course, we would have debate activities periodically in class – I remember English and History classes particularly. What I saw last night would hardly be called a debate by my reckoning.
Do they even teach debating in school anymore? Here’s a resource that could be used.
How to Conduct a Classroom Debate
In the article, there’s even a section specific to Grade 5 where it was noted:
Write down rules for the debate. They should include no personal insults, no put downs, no emotional appeals and everyone needs to do their fair share of research. Explain to the students that in debate, the arguments use logic and students must distinguish between fact and opinion.
Such good advice and it went missing last night. I hope that no educator anywhere recorded what we saw and use it as an exemplar in the classroom.
A debate should be a civilized way to present, discuss, and defend perspectives and facts. What I saw last night was anything but.
The result was a new low for me in politics and debating. Apparently, there will be three more debates as we march to November. Hopefully, a great deal was learned last night. I know that, if I happen to watch any of these in the future, I’ll be changing channels quickly if this looks like it’s going down the same one way street.