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Back in the day, when I was a student learning how to debate (a lesson, I will admit, I didn’t learn very well), the focus was on content not muscle. In fact, I don’t ever remember our teacher asking,“Who was the aggressor?” or, “Who claimed more air space?” Instead, our debate performance was based upon our arguments and whatever facts and statistics we used to support them.
Not so anymore. After watching the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates this year I was struck by the commentary afterwards. “Romney was the aggressor! He won the debate!” they all claimed after round one. Then it was “Biden was the aggressor. He held the air space!” Presidential debate number two came in with, “Obama wins! He regained his aggressive stance.”
Hmmm, I thought to myself. Does anyone care what these men are actually saying? Apparently not. It seems to be more about the tone, the swagger, and the punch than about real solutions to real problems.
Of course, as a mother (and a yogi), I’m not pleased with this approach. What does it teach our kids? Does it teach them to be passionate, compassionate, and to present their ideas, hopes and dreams in a clear and logical manner? Does it teach them to persuade with facts instead of exaggerations? Or does the presidential debate simply reinforce the culture of aggressive bullying that is pervasive and so problematic in many of our schools?
I will admit I am looking forward to debate number three. But only because I hold on to the idealistic hope that when it’s over, someone in media-land will actually comment on what has been said rather than on who appears to be tougher and meaner. For me, winning a debate has to do with whose ideas make the most sense, not with who looks scarier, nastier and has bigger horns.