October 2, 2020
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6 resources to help foster a more constructive debate

The nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves offers several tools—from webinars to lesson plans—that will help students and adults alike engage in civic discourse.

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

The history of debate and civil discourse between candidates running for political office in the United States has long been held up as a pillar of our elections process and our democracy. Typically used as a means to debate policy, defend positions, and appeal to voters, debates bring candidates into the same space and ask them to adhere to a set of agreed upon rhetorical rules of engagement.

As we approached the first 2020 presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, many hoped for a sound policy discussion that would leave them with a strong sense of each candidates’ beliefs and positions. What we saw instead was a distressing abandonment of our accepted norms and expectations of civil discourse in favor of a confusing, hostile, and demoralizing exchange on the global stage.

Whether you watched live on television or are catching up through the myriad day-after news reports and reactions, we’re sure many of you, along with your students and children, are trying to make sense of the chaotic and discouraging 90-minute event.

Here are some resources we believe can help:

  • How Do We Talk about Issues that Matter and Fostering Civil Discourse: How to Talk About Issues that Matter
    Engaging in civil discourse means bringing your mind, heart, and conscience to reflective conversations on topics that matter; it does not mean prioritizing comfort. As political discourse becomes more polarizing, use our guide to foster rich dialogue in your classroom.
  • Better Arguments Project
    “American civic life doesn’t need fewer arguments; it needs better arguments,” says The Better Arguments Project. This national initiative—a partnership of the Aspen Institute, Allstate Corporation, and Facing History and Ourselves—is designed to help Americans discuss issues that matter.

  • Webinar | Election 2020: Teaching in Unpredictable Times
    In a time of multiple and overlapping crises—the COVID-19 pandemic, a national reckoning on race and injustice, political polarization, and threats to voting rights and access—teaching the Presidential election is challenging. This webinar will explore approaches that build students’ civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

  • Lesson | News Article Analysis
    Our current times have made it more difficult than ever to differentiate news, feature, and opinion. Use our teaching strategy to help students grasp these differences and think more critically about the information they encounter.

  • Process Feelings & Reactions with Emoji Emotions
    As much as adults may decry our children’s use of emoji, they offer people young and old a chance to express their feelings in today’s digital environment. In this resource, we explain how to leverage emoji for emotional processing in the virtual classroom.

As the 2020 election season continues, we hope to continue to be a go-to resource for you for the support and materials you need to help you teach about the democratic process and the impact of elections in your classrooms and beyond.

We also just released a collection of teaching ideas, readings, lessons, and more, specifically focused on the principles of civic engagement, the history of voting rights and voter suppression, and individual agency to work for change and stand up to bigotry and hate through the electoral process.

This post originally appeared on Facing History and Ourselves’s website.

Mary-Liz Murray

Facing History and Ourselves

Mary-Liz Murray is Associate Director of Marketing at Facing History and Ourselves.