Making Sense of the Debate: 6 Resources

Posted by Mary-Liz Murray on October 1, 2020

A microphone displayed before an American flag

The history of debate and civil discourse between candidates running for political office in the United States has long been held up as a pillar of our elections process and our democracy. Typically used as a means to debate policy publicly, defend positions, and appeal to voters, debates bring candidates into the same space and ask them to adhere to a set of agreed upon rhetorical rules of engagement. As we approached the first 2020 presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, many hoped for a sound policy discussion that would leave them with a strong sense of each candidates’ beliefs and positions. What we saw instead was a distressing abandonment of our accepted norms and expectations of civil discourse in favor of a confusing, hostile, and demoralizing exchange on the global stage.

Whether you watched live on television or are catching up through the myriad day-after news reports and reactions, we’re sure many of you, along with your students and children, are trying to make sense of the chaotic and discouraging 90-minute event.

Here are some resources we believe can help:

  • Better Arguments Project
    “American civic life doesn’t need fewer arguments; it needs better arguments,” says The Better Arguments Project. This national initiative—a partnership of the Aspen Institute, Allstate Corporation, and Facing History and Ourselves—is designed to help Americans discuss issues that matter.

  • Webinar | Election 2020: Teaching in Unpredictable Times
    In a time of multiple and overlapping crises—the COVID-19 pandemic, a national reckoning on race and injustice, political polarization, and threats to voting rights and access—teaching the Presidential election is challenging. This webinar will explore approaches that build students’ civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

  • Lesson | News Article Analysis 
    Our current times have made it more difficult than ever to differentiate news, feature, and opinion. Use our teaching strategy to help students grasp these differences and think more critically about the information they encounter.

  • Process Feelings & Reactions with Emoji Emotions
    As much as adults may decry our children’s use of emoji, they offer people young and old a chance to express their feelings in today’s digital environment. In this resource, we explain how to leverage emoji for emotional processing in the virtual classroom.

As the election season continues, we hope to continue to be a go-to resource for you for the support and materials you need to help you teach about the democratic process and the impact of elections in your classrooms and beyond. Tomorrow, we’ll be releasing a collection of teaching ideas, readings, lessons, and more, specifically focused on the principles of civic engagement, the history of voting rights and voter suppression, and individual agency to work for change and stand up to bigotry and hate through the electoral process. 

Topics: voting, civil discourse

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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