Presidential Debates: Not a Spectator Sport

Social Education, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Presidential Debates: Not a Spectator Sport


THE NONPARTISAN, nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. The CPD's primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates. With funding provided by a grant from the Knight Foundation, the CPD is publishing a guide to the production and sponsorship of debates, Inside Debates, as well as a curriculum for middle and high school, Presidential Debates: A Teacher's Guide. The curriculum, designed in collaboration with KidsVoting USA, contains a brief history of presidential debates, as well as activities which help students understand the process of debating. The goal of these activities is to get students and their families involved in the discussion of public issues during the general election.

Two activities from the curriculum appear on the following three pages. "It's Your Turn to Be a Political Reporter" is an activity that asks students to review presidential debate questions as asked by news reporters in past years, and then to compose their own questions for the current debate. "The Techniques of Persuasion" asks students to learn about ten rhetorical techniques (likes "appeals to emotion" and "false dilemma") and then to listen carefully to the words of the candidates during the debate, noting any use of these techniques. (See also the activity "Debate Bingo" on page 299.)

Both guidebooks will be available free on the CPD website, www.debates .org, and on the Kids Voting USA website, www.kidsvotingusa.org. A visitor to the CPD website can find these guidebooks by clicking on the Educational Resources link. One can also read about presidential debates of the past by clicking on the button (literally, the image of an old campaign button) for the appropriate year. The debates of 1858 set the stage for Abraham Lincoln's later run for the presidency; 1948 and 1956 were the only public debates among presidential candidates prior to 1960, the year of the first televised presidential debate (between Kennedy and Nixon). …

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