Remember When Debates Involved Debating?

When I was in ninth grade and it was announced that we were going to attend a debate by the two candidates for class president, I was surprised to hear that we even had a class president.  Until that moment I had thought our class was governed by an oligarchy of characters from video games who directed the teachers to make us read things like Beowulf.

So one day, instead of spending third period in math class and discussing how a line was equal to itself, we were corralled into the auditorium so that two of our peers could talk about how they were different from each other.

The two candidates stood at podiums on the stage – one on the left, and one on the right.  The candidate on the left, a very nice young woman who until then I had known only as the girl with the purple school bag, was the incumbent president.  The young man on the right – rumored to be a jerk but good at math – her challenger.

After the two candidates each made introductory remarks, displaying their talent for speaking in a monotone directly into a piece of paper, students were allowed to ask questions.  The first question was, “As class president, how would you create more activities for students?”

The left-hand candidate had the chance to speak first, and she said, “Thank you for your question.  Activities are a very important part of a student’s life, and I know that you’re hurting for some activities.  I know what it feels like to have nothing to do.  Last year my parents took away my television privileges because they caught me smoking a cigarette.  All afternoon I had nothing to do except stare at a blank wall.  Eventually my parents realized how important television was to me and let me watch it again, and all was right.  So I know what you mean, and when I’m class president I’m going to make sure that students have lots of activities.”

Then the right-hand candidate interjected, “But student activities declined by over twenty percent since you took office at the end of eighth grade!  When I’m class president, we’re going to reverse that trend.”

Then the left-hand candidate said, “That’s not true.  You are not using accurate statistics.  You should do your homework.”

“I don’t need to do my homework,” he replied, “I’ve always been great at math.  I’m in the honors class.”

Then the teacher-moderator stopped the arguing and invited the next question from a student.

“What are you going to do about the quality of the school lunch?”

The right-hand candidate said, “Thank you for your question.  For years we have been under the oppression of the school lunch.  There is a central authority that decides for us what we should be eating, and it isn’t good!  When I’m class president, my plan is to create a marketplace of lunch vendors, so that students can decide for themselves what they want to eat.”

Then the left-hand candidate said, “Privatizing the school lunch might be nice if you get a big allowance.  But for middle-allowance students, a school lunch marketplace is only going to make an expensive lunch even more expensive.  The answer is to make the existing school lunch taste better.  And I’m going to do that as class president.”

“And how are you going to do that?” asked the teacher-moderator.

“Oh, you want me to elaborate?” asked the incumbent.  “We were told we wouldn’t have to elaborate.”

I couldn’t take it anymore.  It was time to ask these candidates a question that was relevant to our lives.  Activities?  School lunches?  These things were not important.  No matter who won this election, we would still have to go to class.  We would still have to get changed for gym.  We would still have to read Beowulf.  Before I knew it, I was standing at the microphone, clearing my throat, and asking my question.

“What exactly does the class president do?” I asked.

The candidates looked stunned for a moment.  I could hear some laughter behind me, and I sensed that I had asked the single question that everyone had wanted to ask.  My heart filled with such joy I felt close to tears.

And the next thing I knew, I was being escorted out of the auditorium while another student asked a question, and the candidates were articulating their five-point plans for implementing a more convenient schedule of late buses.

17 thoughts on “Remember When Debates Involved Debating?

  1. I would like you to please moderate the next presidential debate. We need someone to moderate who is actually more concerned with what presidents do than with stumping for her own favorite candidate. Thank you for asking the hard questions!

    1. You’re welcome! I would love to moderate the next presidential debate. But I think I would change the format a little. Instead of a town hall meeting, I would have them on the set of Family Feud. And they would meet in the center, and would be asked to name the number one surveyed answer on question like the top issue in the election, or most cryptic tax deduction, or the least readable piece of legislation, and whomever buzzed in with the highest ranking issue, his “family” – i.e. his running mate, advisors, press secretary – would get a chance to guess the rest of the issues.

      1. I have a better idea- force the candidates to participate in Takeshis castle (or any of these other humiliating Japanese shows). The one who wins becomes President. 🙂

  2. Sometimes I wonder what it really is like to be a class president or even actually have one! From where i come from we don’t have class presidents. p.s “What does a class president do?”
    I think now i know a tad bit of what Class President actually means! Thanks 🙂

    1. Glad I could be of service. Yes, this was meant to be a very factually accurate depiction of school politics. What does a class president do? Run for class president, that’s what. Completely different from other elected presidents 🙂

  3. LOL! You learned an important lesson as a kid : You are allowed to take sides, to debate, to “stand” for something, as long as you don’t challenge the system.

    A bit like real politics then. 🙂

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