Great Falls teacher creates safe space for students to discuss politics

Posted at 7:00 PM, Oct 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 21:00:32-04

Tuesday’s contentious presidential debate left a lot of Americans discouraged with the political process. The debate quickly devolved into a shouting match between the two candidates. The debate was so unconventional that the commission in charge of overseeing presidential debates is considering adopting new rules before the next showdown between President Trump and former Vice President Biden.

It wasn’t what presidential debates normally look like. But if you think America’s past the point of no return when it comes to civility in politics — think again.

“In class, our debates are more presidential than what we saw on TV,” said Cameron McNamee, a senior taking an Advanced Placement Government class at Great Falls High School.

His dad, Ed McNamee, a former teacher of the year, teaches the class. Although AP Government is offered nationwide, here in Montana, it’s one of several public school courses eligible for dual credit, meaning students can take the course for mostly guaranteed college credit. But more than that, the classroom is a safe space — and for some students, the only place — where they can debate their political views openly.

“Things can get quite exciting in there, because you have people from one side of things, people from another, people with different experiences,” said student Madi Nowakowski.

But unlike on the presidential debate stage, there’s no name-calling, yelling, or talking over one another.

“The discussions we have in here are more appropriate, more presidential, more adult,” Ed said. “We really try to live up to the idea of Jefferson, of a public education where sharing of ideas can happen, and have discourse.”

Some of Ed’s senior students will be voting for the first time this year. He says he’s confident that classes like his in Great Falls Public Schools are shaping those young people into informed voters, who can respect others' opinions regardless of how presidential candidates act.

“You can have useful discourse,” he said.