Tumultuous 2016 presidential election provides plenty for local schools to talk about

  • St. Paul’s debate team co-captain Anvesh Jain and “Practical Politics” class teacher Grant Edwards stand in the school’s classroom Wednesday. Edwards uses the political season to incorporate lessons into his class. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor Staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/26/2016 11:30:50 PM

Throughout the school year, St. Paul’s School debate team captains have given their peers advice when it comes to the three presidential debates: watch to learn about policy, but don’t plan to copy the debate styles of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

“It’s good in following policy discussions, but we like to tell kids, don’t debate the way candidates would,” said 17-year-old debate team co-captain Anvesh Jain. “That won’t get you anywhere in a tournament.”

Jain and co-captain Alejandro Maldonado have other advice about how not to debate: don’t follow your opponent around the stage and don’t interrupt in the middle of their arguments with the word “wrong.”

In a highly charged election year, students and teachers in local schools have been grappling with how to teach and study some of the more unprecedented aspects of the 2016 presidential race.

St. Paul’s School teacher Grant Edwards says the 2016 election is “completely unique in a lot of ways.”

At the same time, it’s provided great fodder for his students to talk about in his “Practical Politics” class. Edwards says there has been something new to talk about “at every turn”: WikiLeaks releasing Clinton campaign emails, questions about the media’s role in the election, and the latest headlines – Trump saying he may not accept the results of the election unless he wins.

“What does that mean if he’s not willing to respect the results?” Edwards said. “How does that affect people who are going out to vote?. . .How does that hurt the potential for peaceful transition of power?”

In an election year that has put many on edge, Edwards and other local teachers said they’re consistently amazed by the depth and quality of discussions his students have had on the presidential race.

Earlier this year, Concord High School social studies teacher Chris Herr received an email for a workshop called “Teaching in the Time of Trump,” which focused on talking about politics respectfully in class.

But Herr said he hasn’t seen any disrespectful student behavior related to the election at Concord High.

“I don’t see what others are seeing to necessitate that kind of workshop,” he said. “I think that’s a good sign, it reflects well on our staff and well on our community.”

Concord High School geography teacher Bart Pospychala said when he talks with his classes about the election, one of the consistent topics that comes up is students’ belief that the presidential candidates sound immature.

“I will honestly say the common denominator has been the lack of civil discourse between the candidate in terms of talking over one another,” Pospychala said, adding his students point out, “ ‘We don’t do that as students, at a much younger age level.’ Everyone was pretty much in agreement on that one.”

Herr, who also teaches geography, said while the election doesn’t come up in his course material, he still sets aside time each morning to talk about current events.

Herr also advises an after-school student group called Feminism Now, where discussion about the election has come up often.

“I think they have a very mature approach to it,” he said. “It’s been interesting to see them dive into discussion about the older feminist movement. They’re seeing it, hearing it and talking about it in the way the adults do.”

In St. Paul’s “Practical Politics” class, it’s part of the curriculum for students to volunteer with the campaigns of their choice.

Debate team co-captains Jain and Maldonado said knocking on doors has been an eye-opening experience, especially when they encounter a registered Democrat who says he or she plan to vote for Donald Trump – a candidate neither student agrees with personally.

“He inspires people,” Maldonado said. “There is something to be said about the fact that he is able to move the population.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)




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