Teaching Civics through History: The Great Debates

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Next week, the nation will have its first opportunity to see the major candidates for president debate one another and address some of the most essential questions facing our nation regarding COVID-19, protests, health care, and the vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States. How can we best prepare your youngest community members to wise consumers of this information?

The Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC) created a series of cross-curricular modules that can be used by classrooms in remote learning, hybrid, and face to face environments. The museum’s Executive Director, Susy Schultz, and Carol Summerfield, MBC Board Member and Executive Director of the History Center, joined IllinoisCivics.org this week for a webinar modeling a sample lesson from the museum’s Great Debates resources. If you missed the webinar, you can access a recording to view at your convenience.

The Great Debates website provides an interactive timeline dating back to 1924 with the first broadcast of presidential debates on the radio. The resource also houses an interactive page highlighting critical moments in televised debates dating back to 1960. There are also curriculum modules that address topics including:
  • Presidential Elections and Neutrality of the Media
  • Political Candidates, Public Opinion and Social Media
  • Presidential Campaigns: The Influence of 150 Years of Media
  • Presidential Debates, Leadership, and the COVID-19 Crisis
  • Debates and Late Night TV
Many of our other civic learning providers have also created resources to support student engagement in the election. Here are some places to start:
  • Mikva Challenge is hosting debate watch parties via Twitter.
  • Scholastic has a series of resources for teaching about the Presidential Debates.
  • KQED has a Presidential Debate Lesson plans.
  • ADL has created a Debate Watching Guide.
  • PBS Learning Media has a lesson plan on Hosting a Presidential Debate.
What are you doing to engage your students in the Presidential Debates? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare young people for college, career, and civic life in remote, hybrid, and face to face classrooms.


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