Monday, September 22, 2008

What do we learn from the debates?

How many people will be watching the presidential debates this Friday? How many students will be among those numbers?

Of all the TV time these candidates have had throughout this election – the hours they spend publicly debating should be the most important. Though they practice for the debates and deliver much the same rhetoric we hear in speeches and commercials – the very format of a debate requires a level of un-scripted conversation we rarely get to see in a presidential election.

If education is essential to full participation in a democracy, a well educated person should form his or her opinions of a candidate not based upon the latest attack ad, or even an emotionally delivered speech at a recent campaign rally. A well-educated person needs to be able to research the background of the candidate, to assess their experience and how that prepares them for the office, and to hear them speak without a teleprompter on what they really think about the issues.

The presidential debates should be forums for a real glimpse into the personality and thinking of our candidates. As they stand on visual and verbal display we should be able to assess how they perform under pressure, how quick they are to react to a challenge, how honest they seem when sharing an opinion.

But what is a voter to do when even the debates give us another healthy dose of recycled lingo and field-tested sound bites? To truly form well-founded opinions of our candidates we have to work harder than ever to seek out unbiased truths and to separate the facts from the fiction.

This is why it is more important than ever that our students learn the vital skills of critical thinking. Unless we are content to let our votes be dictated by the flashiest, or ugliest, ad campaigns – it is imperative that today’s kids learn how to seek, find, interpret, and use information to make the very important decisions that will determine the shape of tomorrow.

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