At the start of this evening, there was a great amount of anticipation in the air. Everyone had been talking about how the presidential candidates would “perform” at this second debate. Prior to the start of the debate, however, we focused on the report “Helping America Talk.” Our Debate Watch group of more than 50 people gathered again at Chez Billy’s in Washington D.C. Before the debate started, we gathered into small groups where we were a group comprised of an undergraduate student, a graduate student in Healthcare Policy, and a Director of Special Events for a local university in addition to a lawyer and writer/journalist. Following at least one policy recommendation as set forth in the report, we incentivized our participants and offered food and drink (of course!) and started right in out the topic of the night. Because we were there for the debate, I posed the question: How can we get America talking (intellectually?) about issues facing us as a nation? How can we keep people actively engaged and energized, in this case, in the democratic process? We all acknowledged that inside the beltway (as we in the Washington DC area like to call ourselves) we are uniquely in tune to all things politics. But what about the rest of the country? How can we get them also engaged in policy related discussions. How do we develop intellectual curiosity about matters of Education, Energy, Healthcare policies, and the like instead of allowing them to rely on the interpretation of local and national pundits. The participants wondered whether starting simply and teaching the election process from an early age (like at elementary school)– even if is just a basic vote for red vs. blue— has been buried under priorities for standardized testing a la “No Child Left Behind”. Is simply engaging in discussion about relevant issues that affect our lives lost behind the question, answer and accountability process (read: testing and assessments)? Have children and families disengaged from dinner table discussions because of the otherwise pull of TV, smart phones, and IPADS? As parents, there is a responsibility to provide our kids with a number of things, and now, since the school curriculums have refocused their efforts and no longer emphasize basic civics we are now tasked with having to teach our children how to be good citizens in our local and national communities. Doing this requires providing our children with a basis of knowledge for eventually engaging in intellectual discussions. Even though our substantive topic focused on the debate of two national candidates, we pondered whether bringing up potentially controversial topics with school aged children would encourage and allow children to discuss issues intellectually, even with people with whom they do not agree. One participant mentioned that these controversial topics are a part of life and regardless of whether you agree with someone or not, you should be willing to engage in conversation and be open to hearing different opinions.
After our engaging discussion, our group was ready to rejoin the larger group and watch the lively and energetic national debate. It proved, once again, to be good food, good company and good conversation.