David Merritt’s recent column in the Wichita Eagle – with apologies to Edwin Starr’s “War” (how do you spell huh?) – made me think of today’s title.
Merritt questions the use of the upcoming presidential debates to provide the information needed by voters to make valid decisions. It’s an interesting concept – suggesting that debates are actually a bad thing.
Merritt thinks that a “traditional” debate creates the wrong kind of conversation. Instead of encouraging candidates to highlight differences in the sort of attack mode that has developed over the last few years, a debate should be about something else entirely.
Effective governing isn’t about moving away from people who believe differently; it’s about coming closer together. It isn’t about rallying only your troops; it’s about building a cohesive army. It’s not performance art; it’s the creative use of persuasion and power.
His suggestion for improving the debate process would focus on a completely different set of skills.
It would be a far better indication of governing ability to present the candidates with a different task: not trying to rhetorically conquer the other, but trying to agree on how to resolve specific problems. Even if they never actually reached resolution — and they almost always would not, because of their contrasting philosophies — we at least could observe who had the grasp of the issues and the skills that leadership and governing actually require.
The present election process is creating a whole host of voters who think like little mini-politicians who never listen to one another, who concede nothing and who would rather find ways to attack others instead of working for consensus.
How can we use Merritt’s ideas in our social studies classrooms? What applications are there for us?
I think we can take his ideas and begin to encourage more collaborative learning, to have our kids focus on discussion rather than argument and to develop decision making skills based on facts rather than emotion.
We need more 21st century thinking skills rather than politics as usual.