Not sure about you, but I’ve been following the Republican debates pretty closely over the past few months.  My main goal has been to get a sense for what exactly the Right is bringing to the table this year.

While I typically lean left in my voting patterns, I’m as independent as they come — and given the ridiculousness of ol’ Bam’s educational choices in the past four years, I’m more than a little disgruntled with the Democrats.

But I’ve also found the Republican debates to be completely entertaining in a Jersey Shore kind of way.  Ya just never know when someone is going to haul off and say and/or do something completely foolish.

That’s why the CNN Las Vegas debate will remain forever burned in my memory.  Channeling their inner Alis, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry threw down over illegal immigration:


I knew that I had to use the Romney-Perry exchange in a lesson with students because it is a PERFECT example of how NOT to act in a conversation where you are actually trying to learn something.

Matt Copeland — whose book on structuring Socratic Circles had a deep and lasting impact on my own instructional practices — would call the Romney – Perry slugfest an example of competitive dialogue.  When engaged in competitive dialogue, individuals see others as intellectual dragons that need to be slain.

There’s a real unwillingness to listen when you’re engaged in competitive dialogue because listening inherently suggests that your own ideas might be wrong — and being wrong in a competitive conversation is really, really bad.

Ask John McCain.  Or Al Gore.

Or any other politician that has spent months and millions trying to be elected only to come up a few votes short of the finish line.

While there’s always a place for competitive dialogue in our persuasive world, Copeland argues, students need to be introduced to the characteristics of collaborative dialogue too — which is built on the notion that participants in a conversation should see one another as intellectual teammates who are building new understandings together.

We may not agree in a collaborative conversation, but we respect each other and are convinced that we can learn from one another as long as we are willing to listen with an open mind.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Here’s the hitch:  Kids RARELY see examples of collaborative dialogue in action.  Instead, they are surrounded by competitive conversations — whether it’s two political candidates delivering right hooks to each other or two companies trying to insult one another’s products.

The result is that a whole generation of kids are growing up with little real ability to engage in the kinds of collaborative conversations that lead to better solutions and more learning.


If this resonates with you at all, consider downloading this activity that I just whipped up:

Download Handout_EvaluatingConversationBehaviors

It asks students to evaluate the differences between the Romney – Perry clip and an interaction that took place between a group of my students after one of our Socratic Seminars.

Hope you find it useful.


Related Radical Reads:

Teaching Students About Digital Conversations

Digital Conversations Matter

Part 2: Digital Conversations Matter

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