Do Youth See Politicians As Puppets?

As MyDebates.org gives kids a MySpace forum for Social Studies classrooms to attempt to instill a civic sense of  ‘how it all works’ with “Who won? Who lost?’ Who made the stronger case?” it makes me ponder if we’re perhaps asking kids the wrong question entirely.

I’m all for teaching kids how to watch a debate, and giving media literacy tips on stage-crafting, orator skills, and determining questions for the candidates, but it’s the debate process itself I’m exploring.

If we continue to view the world in a ‘who’s right’ philosophy it seems we’re carving a wedge based on ‘convincing,’ dominating, winning, in a series of absolutes where ‘justifying my opinion’ negates and invalidates yours. We pick apart transcripts and exploit gaffes and flip-flops rather than look at where we can ALL align. (‘it’s the economy, stupid’)

This was one of the most poignant lessons I learned as a U.S. Delegate for GWLN’s Women Leaders for the World, where the head of the Center for New Futures, Barbara Fittipaldi shook up the paradigm completely. She said, “consensus kills possibility by design; whereas alignment is less about finding common ground, and more about finding a common commitment for which to stand.”

This kind of thinking resonates with me, because debates are at high risk for ‘sock puppetry’ and frankly, I’m one to ditch demagoguery of quick fix economic solutions and am thrilled when people admit things ARE a mess, rather than squawk in a muppet/puppet show of party line platforms.

So what if we get KIDS to start thinking along these lines early on in ‘one world, one objective’ interdependence opening “conversations of possibility” rather than slammed doors of ‘my ideas are better than your ideas’ dogmatic absolutism?

When you sit down at an international negotiating table with people from global mindsets not remotely close to your own, you search for common ground to enable forward motion rather than disparate discordance that marks differentiation.

Diplomacy is more about alignment of commitment rather than agreement, right?

So why can’t debate styles be more like that?

As kids learn to reason and weigh trade-offs they begin to establish over-arching life skills, “What am I committed to, where might we align?” —questions that will serve them well from jobs to neighbors to spouses and community.

That’s reality…the rest is politics.

You can play the blame game and tear down trappings all you want, but if you want movement and change, you’ve gotta find the conduit and the common ground to work together rather than polarize.

Maybe that’s the centrist ‘voice of the massive middle’ speaking diplomacy, since I bristled AND applauded BOTH candidates on different statements, issues, deliveries, and authenticity.

Question: Are kids being taught to analyze and see ‘both sides’ of an issue beyond a classroom exercise on persuasion?

In our web celeb ‘vote it up or down’ reality show culture, it seems media portrayals thrive on dramatic tension, inflammatory rhetoric and kids’ participation in ‘cheerleader’ style.

That breeds ‘my way or the highway’ group-think where coolness cache, popularity and appearance create ‘sheeple’ based on shared convictions in peer poll style.

How can we instill objectivity through candor and reason, while stripping away the polarized puppeteering?

All too often when classrooms have ‘mock debates’ and such, we hear parental influence (or the converse, a rebel yell in the opposite direction) instead of critical thinking skills from students themselves.

To me, it seems we need to begin to tread a new path of alignment for interdependence in our shrinking global world of limited natural resources…

I think this generation of kids really “gets this.” (if we’d quit teaching them otherwise!)

Watch this quick ad (which happens to be for HSBC bank of all things!) pitting the economic and environmental realities of two opposing views (treesquatters and treecutters) making peace within one family.

JWT London did a powerful job of making an unusually emotional, even heart-wrenching, (played me like a violin!) ad that captivated based on its message of polarity dissolving to alignment.

Not saying I want Obama and McCain to hop on a motorcycle together and ride off in the sunset like this, but there IS some of that ‘work with me’ appeal in this ad that makes me wish partisan politicians could put down their saber-tongues and FIND alignment so we can even HAVE a future for kids on this planet, much less a viable, rewarding one!

What do you think? Any chance we can shift kids toward alignment over consensus? Toward analysis and forward momentum over judgmental ‘grading’ and vitriol? I found this Digital Journal article refreshingly candid along these lines for why things ‘stall’ and get ‘stuck.’ Am I being a naïve ideologue?

Yes, I realize I’ve just opened up yet another debate…

Hit me with your best shot. Fire away.

Visual Credits: Lead muppet photo tinkering sent to me by Bill Daul of our esteemed NextNow collaboratory Sock puppet from the GreenClassBlog, HSBC ad by JWT London via AdFreak, and thumbs up/down via DebateWatch.org.

Related Resources

Shaping Youth: Stage-Crafting Conventions, Media Literacy Tips for Kids

Shaping Youth: Project Vote Smart: Youth Hub for Critical Thinking Skills

Shaping Youth: Will Kids Pick the President?

Civics Pride/Election Edition; Cable in the Classroom

Lights, Camera, Debate! Frank Baker, Media Literacy Clearinghouse

AAUW: What Would YOU Ask The Candidates?

Fact Check.org: Annenberg Political Facts/Fallacies: Debate No. 1

Fact Checking the First Presidential Debate (Yahoo summary)

NYT Caucus Blog: CheckPoint (Factual analysis, live blog, interactives)

Washington Post: The Art of Meaningless Spin (post debate coverage)

WebMD: From Body Image to Bluster: How to Grade the Debates

Time Inc: Grading the First Presidential Debates

AppScout: TwitterPolitics, Just What We Don’t Need!

Reminder: use media literacy for these sources too! (Consider news bias, media monopolies, journalistic integrity, governmental or nonprofit/nonpartisan status, etc.!–Amy Jussel)

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