The day after the debate, our 11th graders came into class hyped up to talk about what they had observed. I knew they would be devoting time to discussion in History, but I also wanted to link it back to the idea of presenting facts and statistics truthfully.
We started by reviewing some of the logical fallacies listed on the poster and asked what they marked on their bingo cards. Some moments mentioned:
- Emotional Appeal — Obama mentioning his Grandmother, Romney mentioning struggling Americans who he met on the campaign trail.
- Composition/Division — Romney using the example of Health Care in Massachusetts as good for all states.
- Ad Hominem — Less of this than any of us expected, but some veiled comments about Romney’s wealth and business background.
For the second half of class, students logged on to Moodle and were given the following instructions, to be completed in their groups of four:
1. Go to the NYTimes Fact Check Blog, browse a little, and pick one moment where a candidate mislead or straight-up lied during the debate: http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/debates/presidential/2012-10-03#fact-checks
You also need to find that moment on the transcript: http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/03/politics/debate-transcript/index.html
2. Get that moment approved by Ms. Pahomov, and then do some research to find out what REALLY should have been said.
3. Write a new, truthful version of their comment and post it here. Do NOT have the candidate saying something that would hurt them. Maybe they need different statistics, or a different angle.
Students gravitated towards issues like education, food stamps, and job creation. When it came to the simpler stats — (“Romney said Massachusetts was #1 for schools, but trustworthy groups rank them #2!”) I encouraged them to pick more complex issues.
Simply put, the discussions during this activity were killer. Some of the issues I heard being discussed: How do you really calculate something like job creation? What argument would defend cutting education spending?” What is the candidate actual plan on x topic?
Here’s one example of their work:
What Mitt Romney should have said on education cuts:
-Yes Mr. President I plan on cutting a lot of things in order to help our economy. My plan is to not cut so much money that it will hurt our education system but to actually help it in the long run. By cutting programs we will lower our deficit, but your education plan will actually raise it. My education plan is essential and will greatly help our economy.
The final product was a sound byte of speechwriting — but the mental process, I hope, will support their analytical thinking as they keep researching and drafting their 2Fers essays — one big reason why, as an English teacher, I was thrilled to tackle this topic.