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Acalanes English Teacher Criticized for Presidential Election Project on Conservative Morning Radio Show

By Maddie McDonagh, Copy Editor, and Sierra Fang-Horvath, Feature Editor. Julian O’Donnell, Print-Online Liaison, contributed to this story.

Time Published: 8:47 AM

//An Acalanes parent called into local conservative radio talk show on the morning of June 7 to The  KSFO Morning Show hosted by  Brian Sussman, to criticize the omission of Donald Trump from a presidential candidate project assigned to sophomore students by Acalanes English teacher Cathy Challacombe.

  The project involved the study of the rhetoric of various candidates running for office. Students were to choose one candidate to focus on for analysis of persuasion techniques.

  The Acalanes parent, whose name is being withheld to protect the  the privacy of his  student who attends Acalanes,  expressed offense  that students were not permitted to choose presidential candidate Trump.

  When Sussma  asked about the teacher’s reasoning behind excluding Trump, the parent  offered no reason,but said he originally intended to speak to Challacombe about the project, only to be stopped by his daughter who feared for her grade.

  “I told my daughter that I was going to go down to the school to talk to the teacher and [my daughter] went absolutely haywire,” the parent said. “She said, ‘You can’t do that, she’ll fail me!’”

  Sussman agreed with the parent’s apparent assumption that the exclusion of Trump was politically motivated  and called the teacher’s decision “ridiculous” and “stupid.”

  However, according to sophomore Molly Mudgett, a student of Challacombe’s English II class, the project originally included Trump as a study option.

  “The initial prompt was to pick two candidates, Trump as an option, and write a research paper about which we thought was running a more effective campaign, not who we liked better but based purely off the rhetoric,” Mudgett said. “ After a few days of research, we were running into trouble with how to write the comparative essay so [Challacombe] changed the prompt to an oral report on one candidate.”

  Challacombe modified the assignment to require students to write a formal  speech that imitated some of  the campaign rhetoric of Clinton, Sanders, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich and others whose speeches were more conventional campaign fare.

  “It was to employ the use of the many rhetorical devices we had been studying as well as some evidence from that campaign or other sources,” Mudgett said.

  According to Challacombe, the project was focused  on campaign  stump speeches,  standard orations that typically  repeat a candidate’s beliefs and goals, and  normally used by politicians at numerous campaign stops. Challacombe said that Trump does not use conventional stump speeches and typically is very good at not repeating himself.

  “We talked about Trump a lot. I just didn’t let them pick Trump as the candidate to research because he is unique in regards to this assignment about rhetoric and speech,” Challacombe said. “If you bring up some of his speeches, it would be very hard to find a thread from speech to speech that would have a particular rhetorical element to it.”

  Mudgett believes that Challacombe’s reasoning was well-founded, and also noted that all the students did not seem bothered by their inability to present Trump.

  “[Challacombe] explained that she didn’t let anyone do Trump because she believed the rhetoric of his campaign was too difficult to imitate and that the speech would be too hard for us to write because of the style of his speeches,” Mudgett said. “It was too difficult for us to effectively work with the rhetoric of his campaign, or at least that’s what I understood her answer to be. No one complained or seemed upset at all.”

 On the talk show, Sussman and the Acalanes parent seemed to insinuate that Challacombe did not permit students to research Trump because of some of her potential own misgivings towards the candidate and alleged that she would impose grade retribution, which is illegal under state ed code.

  “She probably would fail her,” said Sussman. “And then you’d get some kind of a check next to your name that you come from a redneck family of kooks. That’s unbelievable, Bill, at a school like Acalanes. I mean, this is a well known, pretty darn good high school.”

  Sussman went on to speculate about Challacombe’s motives.  “I guess allowing the kids to talk about Trump might incite violence or something like, maybe that’s her argument. How ridiculous. This is so stupid,” he said.

  However, Challacombe and her students alike defend the reasoning behind the decision. Sophomore Conrad Rocha is one of these students.

  “I don’t think she didn’t let us do Trump because he’s conservative or whatever,” Rocha said. “We were allowed to do Cruz, which shows that her own opinions played no role in the decision.”

  Challacombe also mentioned that ultimately the students would be writing a speech as if they were campaigning for their candidate.

  “They did not actually have to agree with their candidate and some of them were a little frustrated because they were researching a candidate with whom they disagreed with,” Challacombe said.

  According to Mudgett, the students were late given the opportunity to express their political beliefs on their assigned candidate in an essay.

  “We were later given a chance to talk about what we really thought about our candidate in a separate smaller essay, in which we were given much more freedom,” Mudgett said.

  Challacombe made it clear that she had to make this project about the use of persuasive language, not the actual debates, which was difficult because many students treated it more like a social studies project.

  “It had nothing to do with [Trump’s] politics. It had to do with his rhetoric and how they create a sound, an argument,” Challacombe said. “That’s why he is breaking all sorts of rules.”

  Neither the parent nor Sussman had  respond to a Blueprint e mail request for an interview   sent about 20 hours before press time.

  Blueprint Print-Online Liaison, Julian O’Donnell, who contributed to this story said, “We are still waiting for a response from either the parent or Sussman and we will update the story accordingly if they contact us.”
See sidebar story for the full transcript of Blueprint’s interview with Challacombe

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