Saturday, November 8, 2008

Antioch students examine presidential election issues

Mock debate helps students increase critical thinkingBy Suzanne Normand • Blackwood • THE TENNESSEAN • November 7, 2008 Antioch High School debate students recently had a chance to demonstrate their oratory skills as well as the importance of staying informed on the issues. The school held a presidential debate Monday on election eve in which one team debated for Sen. Barack Obama, and one team debated for Sen. John McCain. The Obama team consisted of students Marlene Abdelnour, Matthew Benson and Chase Jones and English teacher Marc Quarles. The McCain team consisted of students Purvi Prema and Alexandra Mitchell, psychology teacher Eric Haines, and educational assistant Cephus Trotter of the school's Making A Change program. Carlos Maradiaga, 18, said he voted in Tuesday's historic U.S. election in which Obama was elected the first African-American president. Although he was pretty well informed before the debate, Carlos said the debate did give him some new information, especially about Obama. He said he thought both sides did well "at defending what they believe in." Debate coach Carrol Trusty said she encouraged the students to debate for the side they opposed. "You have to see both sides to do an accurate analysis of a topic," she said. "So in academic debate, they alternate sides." Trusty said doing this leads to "a tremendous increase in critical thinking." As a result, she said she saw in the audience "more of a split" than expected. Senior Tiffany Gains, who is a debate student, said getting the information out there is a huge part of a successful debate. But, added junior Fatma Ahmed, who is also a debate student, debate is more than "saying what you know." It's also getting up there and saying "what you know is right." The idea for the debate originated with a conversation that took place after school one day between a student and Assistant Principal Bruce Curtis, Trusty said. They began talking about the election, and Curtis jovially challenged the student to a debate. Topics mirrored actual ones Most of the debate focused on topics such as the economy; pork barrel spending; health care; the War in Iraq; and the two candidates' energy policies. Marlene, a senior who played the role of Obama, talked about Obama's plans for small business tax credits; his plan to withdraw troops from Iraq; his health-care policy; and his energy policy, among other issues. She said Obama's plans benefit the middle class, while McCain's plans benefit the rich. Regarding the War in Iraq, she spoke about a "cost-benefit analysis." "Is the cost of soldiers dying worth the benefit of patriotic pride?" she asked. Trotter, who played the role of McCain, talked about his "pro growth, pro job" strategy. Although Americans are "resilient," he said, "our economy today is in bad shape." "We feel like with the way the economy is today, we need leadership." Trotter said he was prepared to offer that leadership, but he wasn't so sure that his opponent was ready. Regarding McCain's energy policy, Trotter said, "we've got to separate ourselves from foreign oil." This means finding alternative sources of fuel, he added. Trotter pointed out how "McCain" said he would make health care available to everyone. "How are we going to do that?" he asked. Instead of subsidizing health-care companies, "We would be implementing our own universal health-care plan," Marlene responded. "Universal health care sounds a lot like socialism," countered Haines. Purvi, who is a senior, also questioned how Obama planned to fund his health-care plan. If the government were put in control of health care, "it would bankrupt us," she said. Students felt good afterward After the debate, junior Chase Jones, who was on the Obama team, said he felt his team really did its homework. "We knew our arguments," he said. Although he felt he should have put more thought into his arguments, Chase said he felt the team generally argued its points well. "I was really impressed," said Alexandra, a senior, pointing out how they lost a team member on the McCain side at the last minute to the flu. "We did really well under pressure," she said. "We were prepared, but not as prepared as we could have been," Alexandra added. But, she said, "we worked well together" and "our faculty helped. "They were very informative." Debate a 'tangible outcome' of private donations Antioch High School, which receives funding for its debate program by the Nashville Alliance for Public Education, is the only area public school that offers honors debate classes and has a public policy debate team. The alliance hopes to establish policy debate teams at other schools in the future through funding from its donors, said executive director Pam Garrett. At Antioch, she said, "We're very proud of the debate team." She said it has served as "an example of a number of programs in Metro schools where additional resources have made a difference." There are a number of areas "where we invest private dollars toward making our public schools great," and this debate is "one of the tangible outcomes," she said. Carlos Maradiaga said the debate did not influence his decision to vote, nor did it influence how he voted. "I had already decided," he said. "I keep up with all the debates. I went to the debate here in Nashville." Carlos, a student in the school's ROTC program and a member of the National Guard, said he was also partially influenced by his family. Bret Lanier, 17, said that even though he was not old enough to vote in this election, he believes the arguments in the debate were "well thought out."

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