John D. Jacobson

John D. Jacobson
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
February 07
A social studies teacher on Milwaukee's North Shore

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OCTOBER 2, 2012 8:02PM

I Don't Care If My Students Watch the Obama-Romney Debates

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Here's a question. What would be the more responsible course for a high school civics teacher to take?


Option 1: Encourage my 16-18 year old students to watch the Obama/Romney debate.


Option 2: Assuming it would take my students approximately the same amount of time, have them watch Dr. Jon Haidt's classic TED Talk on the moral mind and identity politics; then read a little J.D. Kleinke; and follow that up with some Glenn Greenwald.


As budding participants in this perhaps haggard democracy, assuming they'll actually complete the reading (which I always do, modernist teaching philosophies be damned), which option is the most ardent use of their time?


If you thought about it for more than five seconds, then we're already on different pages. For me, it's a no brainer: Option 2, hands down.


Put another way, I don't really care if my students watch President Obama and Governor Romney debate . . . or not.

In the American history course we require for graduation at Shorewood High School, where I'm the social studies department chair, we routinely teach that the election of 1960 hinged on many critical elements of the time, television being one of them. Had it not been for television, many historians have argued, John F. Kennedy might well have ended up in the books with the likes of Adlai Stevenson, Thomas Dewey, and [in a month, most likely] Mitt Romney. Nixon had entirely substantive answers on paper. But Kennedy was good on TV while Nixon was horrible. America decided, at least in part, on this basis.

Conclusion selective or not, we actually teach this, and we actually teach it because it's so widely accepted as being true.


Of course, there's no way to know. The subjectivity level is over the levee for what passes as reasonable historical analysis. There are any number of sound explanations for why Kennedy might still have won had there not been any televised debates. But the standard was set, and America's love affair with television was, by then, a full blown marriage capable of standing the test of time . . . and so here we are, some 52 years later . . . ready to partake once again in what is now all but seen as a requirement for holding our highest office.


If you permit yourself to accept the "JFK was prettier because he wore makeup and Nixon didn't, perhaps due to latent homophobia" theory of the election of 1960, then you surely can't hope to actually learn anything from Option 1 in October of 2012. Why? Things have gotten significantly worse, a verdict most reasonable people reached several election cycles ago. Few doubt that the vapidity of the prevailing debate process has gone way past whether or not Checkers' owner was willing have base applied to his forehead. We've all but thrown in the towel on hoping for something inspiring or thought provoking. If anything, we watch presidential debates these days for pretty much the same reason why we watch NASCAR: The crashes. Ohhhhh how we long for the "Gotcha" moment as we traipse down that ever-thinning line between The Onion and real world politics as reality show.


So if maintaining credibility with my students means anything to me, why would I push Option 1 when Option 2 will actually provoke original thought and possibly retrofit their lens on the media's sillyness in coverage of these affairs. [More intellectual stimulation can routinely be found on Baseball Tonight.]


I took high school civics in the spring of my freshman year, during the primary season of 1980. I remember being given extra credit opportunities to watch the news and report on the GOP campaign which Reagan ultimately carried to the nomination and then the White House (Carter was a lock for the Democrats, so we didn't pay much attention to them, a fairly routine approach to the whole party in the very red part of the country otherwise known as Central Illinois). Grade enhancement as a carrot for maintaining a connection to the electoral process seemed like a good way to get us interested in the electoral process. I've dabbled with this strategy in my twenty-four years of teaching, usually getting mixed results. The kids who are interested in politics don't tend to need grade bribery. The kids who aren't interested (which is a smaller number than you might imagine) need more grade bribery than I'm willing to offer. It ends up being an unnecessary column in the gradebook when all is said and done.


But that won't matter this year because I'm sitting out the entire credit game, both extra and regular. Watch the debates. Don't watch the debates. It's entirely up to you, kids. Yes, it sounds neat when a teacher tries to "engage" students with something that takes the classroom into the living room. There's something smacking of nostalgia, the idea of having a teenager plop down on that couch with pen and paper, begrudgingly announcing, "Mr. Jacobson's making us watch the debate for class," a declaration immediately followed up with a Ward Cleaverish pat on the back from Dad, "Don't worry, son. I'll watch it with you. Mr. Jacobson just wants you to be informed so, one day, you can participate in American democracy." [The teenager should, at this point, say something like, "Gee, I never thought of it that way. I guess Mr. Jacobson knows what he's doing after all, huh?"].


But nostalgia frequently doesn't translate into anything meaningful or educational when applied to the latter day. That's why we call it nostalgia. And the modern version of what we call presidential debates is a fine example of this unfortunate reality. At the start of every semester, I make my students a promise by assuring them there'll be no busy work. It's the same line, and I've been using it for a while now. It goes something like this: "I don't like to have my time wasted. I expect you feel the same way. So when I ask you to do something that takes up your time outside of this classroom, you can rest assured that it's important."


Until we let Aaron Sorkin moderate these affairs, I'm going to keep my word by saying nothing.

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Perhaps if the assignment is to watch the debate and count how many times each candidate lies or spins the truth, the students may learn something.
if a high school civics teacher thinks america is a democracy, it probably doesn't matter what his students do.
Yeah, we are a democracy, Al...a democratic republic. And we probably enjoy more personal freedom than any large society ever has before on planet Earth.

But we have gotten "spoiled rotten" as the term is often applied to kids. We've become ungovernable.

In order for this experiment to work, the citizens cannot allow their personal freedom to become an excuse to refuse to be governed.

The problem has ceased to be primarily the politicians...the problem has become primarily the people.

John, with all the respect in the are wrong. Option #1 is far and away the better option.
" And we probably enjoy more personal freedom than any large society ever has before on planet Earth.

frank suffers from dementia, denial, short and long term memory loss and a whole slew of other incurable afflictions:

Amnesty International (for those reading the thread, not for fRANK as the words and concepts contained in the report are way above his comprehension level) Annual Report 2011:

"United States Of America

Forty-six people were executed during the year, and reports of excessive use of force and cruel prison conditions continued. Scores of men remained in indefinite military detention in Guantánamo as President Obama’s one-year deadline for closure of the facility there came and went. Military commission proceedings were conducted in a handful of cases, and the only Guantánamo detainee so far transferred to the US mainland for prosecution in a federal court was tried and convicted. Hundreds of people remained held in US military custody in the US detention facility on the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. The US authorities blocked efforts to secure accountability and remedy for crimes under international law committed against detainees previously subjected to the USA’s secret detention and rendition programme.

On 22 January, President Obama’s one-year deadline for closure of the Guantánamo detention facility passed with 198 detainees still held in the base, about half of them Yemeni nationals. By the end of the year, there were still 174 men held there, including three who had been convicted under a military commission system which failed to meet international fair trial standards."


"In April, the Pentagon released the rules governing military commission proceedings. The new manual confirmed that the US administration – like its predecessor – reserved the right to continue to detain individuals indefinitely even if they were acquitted by military commission."


"Hundreds of detainees were held in the newly constructed US Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP) on the Bagram air base in Afghanistan; the DFIP replaced the Bagram Theater Internment Facility in late 2009. For example, about 900 detainees were being held in the DFIP in September. Most of them were Afghan nationals, taken into custody by coalition forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan. The US authorities stated that the DFIP would eventually be transferred to the control of the Afghan authorities “for incarceration of criminal defendants and convicts”, and that “transitioning operations” would begin in January 2011.

Amnesty International and other organizations wrote to the US Secretary of Defense in June raising concerns about allegations that detainees held in a screening facility at Bagram air base had been subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, including prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation and exposure to extreme temperatures."


"There continued to be an absence of accountability and remedy for the human rights violations, including the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance, committed as part of the USA’s programme of secret detention and rendition (transfer of individuals from the custody of one state to another by means that bypass judicial and administrative due process) operated under the administration of President George W. Bush.
In his memoirs, published in November, and in a pre-publication interview, former President Bush admitted that he had personally authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques” for use by the CIA against detainees held in secret custody. One of the techniques he said he authorized was “water-boarding”, a form of torture in which the process of drowning a detainee is begun.
On 9 November, the US Department of Justice announced, without further explanation, that no one would face criminal charges in relation to the destruction in 2005 by the CIA of videotapes made of the interrogations of two detainees – Abu Zubaydah and ‘Abd al-Nashiri – held in secret custody in 2002. The 92 tapes depicted evidence of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including “water-boarding”, against the two detainees."


"Fifty-five people died after being struck by police Tasers, bringing to at least 450 the number of such deaths since 2001. Most of the deceased were unarmed and did not appear to present a serious threat when they were shocked, in some cases multiple times. The cases continued to raise concern about the safety and appropriate use of such weapons."


"Prison conditions

There were complaints of cruel conditions for prisoners held in long-term isolation in super-maximum security units. Complaints included ill-treatment of prisoners held in the federal system under Special Administrative Measures."


"Right to health – maternal mortality

Hundreds of women continued to die from preventable pregnancy-related complications. Wide disparities persisted in access to good quality health care based on race, ethnicity, immigration or Indigenous status, geographical location and income. There were calls for federal and state governments to take all necessary steps to improve maternal health care and outcomes, and eliminate disparities.


"Children’s rights

On 17 May, the US Supreme Court ruled that the imposition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a non-homicidal crime on a perpetrator who was under 18 at the time of the crime violated the constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment. The majority noted that support for this conclusion came in the fact that the USA was the “only Nation that imposes life without parole sentences on juvenile nonhomicide offenders”. The majority also noted that Article 37(a) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release for crimes committed by anyone under 18 years old.
On 14 October, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the USA to ratify the CRC, the USA and Somalia being the only two countries not to have done so."


"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose"

"Reporters Without Borders (RWB) is a French-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press and freedom of information. This organization, which has consultant status at the United Nations., was founded in 1985, by Robert Ménard, Rony Brauman and the journalist Jean-Claude Guillebaud. Jean-François Julliard has served as Secretary General since 2008. English speakers also commonly refer to the organization by its French name, Reporters Sans Frontières, or its French acronym, RSF. Its head office is in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. According to its own mission statement, Reporters Without Borders

"defends journalists and media assistants imprisoned or persecuted for doing their job and exposes the mistreatment and torture of them in many countries.

fights against censorship and laws that undermine press freedom.


1. Finland
3. Estonia
5. Austria
6. Iceland
8. Switzerland
9. Cape Verde
12 Sweden
13 New Zealand
14 Czech Republic
15 Ireland
16 Cyprus
19 Costa Rica
20 Belgium
22 Japan
24 Poland
25 Mali
28 United Kingdom
29 Niger
30 Australia
32 Uruguay
33 Portugal
34 Tanzania
35 Papua New Guinea
36 Slovenia
37 El Salvador
38 France
39 Spain
40 Hungary
41 Ghana
42 South Africa
44 South Korea
45 Comoros
47 united states of america,1043.html

Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders are wrong, and fRANK is right, because fRANK is NEVER wrong.
I am afraid that Mark and Al are correct, Frank.

We have met the enemy and it is us. We have a coercive authoritarian national government, and have done for decades. We bring war to all corners of the planet and repression to all corners of our nation. If you are the wrong color, you have almost no chance. The 1% have corned the market. We can't even bring prenatal care to all our citizens, unless someone makes a buck off it.

This is a shitty way to live. It's been like this for decades. They hate us for our freedoms. I think we should envy (some of) them, for their freedoms. And we're currently gearing up to go and add to Iran's misery. Iran - a peaceful country where we deposed the only legally elected prime minster they have ever had.
Option #1 is far and away the better option.

Option #1 is an empty pageant with no meaning - just two actors with virtually identical policies trying to summarize their scripted roles, giving exactly the same lies and empty slogans they've spouted throughout the campaign before and after, neither of them offering a single idea or policy that isn't approved by their owners, with no acknowledgement that there are five other candidates on the ballot who actually represent options and choices. The very fact that people consider there to be a winner and loser, as if it's a contest, should tell us the whole thing's lost all meaning in the first place.

Option #2 involves learning at least a few actual truths and thinking about meaningful things beyond mere idiotic pageantry. John is right - any teacher who'd take even five seconds to make that decision doesn't deserve the job.
Ah, another teacher who irresponsibly puts indoctrination over education. Glenn Greenwald? You've got to be kidding.

Good luck with the insurgent students. Borrowing from South Pacific, collectivism has to be taught. Concepts of private property and competition are innate.
Heard an interesting piece on NPR this morning, about the art of debate, and how we won't really be seeing a true debate because each candidate will use the pivot, that lovely little tool of not answering a question by turning the point to one that favors their position. I will we could have a true debate between candidates, with moderators who would actually make them answer the question that was posed, instead of letting them pivot to their strengths. I'll watch, and end up screaming "Make him answer the questions!!!" at my TV all night.
@ Stan

I am afraid that Mark and Al are correct, Frank.

Well, maybe you are correct. I certainly see posts all over the place and in newspapers and magazines excoriating the government over the fact that it is so repressive!

Folks doing that ought to have tried it in Saddam Hussein's Iraq or Idi Amin's Uganda.

Just sayin'.
I know reading anything other than your "thousands of comic books" is challenging, fRANK, so it's no surprise that you would miss the FACT
(FACTS being your chronic enemy) that the bulk of the top twenty countries are European.

If however You'd like to visit any of the lowest ranked countries that are most repressive, chronically head-in-the sand one, I'll joyfully pay your airfare.

I'd suggest you start your voyage with Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Well, John, if any of your students did watch the "debate" last night, they saw something I never expected.

I am a staunch Obama supporter...and I think Romney is pretty much an empty suit. But Romney blew the doors off Obama in that so-called debate.

I'm not sure if the president was lacking sleep...or simply lacking preparation; it was a horrible performance on his part.

I loved the fact that he now owns the word "Obamacare"--and it can no longer be used as an insult, but this was Romney's night right from the gitgo.

As I have mentioned many times, this race is far from over.
You twist yourself in a pretzel, repeatedly, clueless one. After you're failed preDICKtion that Gingrich is the winner, you've been repeatedly telling this board that romney is gonna' win.

So how did the apisa-bot anointed winner exceed your expectations?

ALL questions directed to fRANK are strictly rhetorical, in nature, as he NEVER answers questions; only demands that others answer his.

How does it feel knowing that your greatest achievement in life is understanding the difference between a gin and tonic and a scotch on the rocks?
By the way, John, I think one of the things we've learned from last night is that, Jim Lehrer, is a much, much better newscaster than he is a debate moderator. His efforts were almost as bad as Obama's.
Anyone see the Zombie unreality show last night? They had this one guy, like the leader of this multi pod culture -- hurt, decaying and in need of soulful reclamation, among other necessities. He takes turns talking to this other one, who is really amped up -- in pro sports they'd have him checked for the 'juice' -- I mean a pee test right there, in some cases in mid sentence; he's smirking, smiling to the imaginary occupied chairs, gesticulating like Mussolini at the balcony. (You know, those early years.) And the dude is spinning one lie more like one sausage made, after another and another....
It was hugely hilarious, them there speaking in the same language, about the same people, with the agenda to make up one whopper after another.... until one receives -- somehow -- a phantom punch, not unlike the one Ali administered to one Sonny Liston, in a land far away ... and the guy is so stunned he can not continue. The amped, hyper kinetic guy just keeps spinning one large galactic story atop another, pulling figures out of this husk of a soul that people actually believed his strange language, speaking in the equivalent of tongues -- or hemorrhoids -- delving into this strange place that no one has ever entered. And the odd thing is, he can not be stopped, like Arnold in the first "The Terminator".
This really seasoned guy is supposed to referee this contest and, well, the poor guy can not stop this fountain of enriched vomit spewing from the Mussolini-like guy;he's older than Miss Haversham, in another adventure of true tales.
Then, the Rod Serling kind of guy says, at the end, I guess, 'You've just witnessed how life is, 55oo feet above sea level ... you've just entered the Twilight Zone .....' No one really thought of what it all meant. Sure was strange. Like to see it in IMAX ....