Interview Conducted by Maddie McDonagh, Copy Editor
Maddie McDonagh: Can you describe the presidential election project?
Challacombe: I wanted them to look at the rhetoric of running for office. They looked at advertisements, web pages, how a candidate was presented to the public by the campaign by itself, etc. That was one piece of it. Then, we doubled down and started looking at the speeches that they were giving and specifically this sprung out of the stump speech, which is a speech that is more or less the same speech that happens from place to place. What is the standard speech of politicians that are campaigning would give. At the time they started that, they had their choice of any of the candidates, I believe O’Malley was even still in the race on the democratic side. I actually had them looking at two different candidates so they could have a choice of comparing. I wanted this project to be about language. Ultimately, they decided on a candidate they would follow. It is true that I told them no to Trump for a couple of reasons. At the time, he was talking a lot about the size of his organs which I really did not want to get into. More importantly, he is not a guy who gives a stump speech. He just speaks. He is very good at speaking on the cuff. That is why he is so fun to watch in debates because he is very good at not repeating himself. It had nothing to do with his politics. It had to do with his rhetoric and how they create a sound, an argument. That’s why he is breaking all sorts of rules. Ultimately, they had to write a speech as if they were a surrogate 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. That was not the issue. The issue was that they needed to speak as if they were going to be out campaigning for that candidate. They came in and presented the speech. Some of them dressed up for the occasion. Some of them had music that they would walk in with. They would give their speech. There was a whole packet that went with it as well that went with the ads and everything else. Finally, because that they asked, I told them that they had a choice of either writing the screed, a rant, or write an evaluation of the project.
Maddie: We were informed by Mr. Bell, the school’s principal, that you allowed for open discussion if students wanted to talk about Trump. Is this true?
Challacombe: 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. 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. I tried to explain that to my students. I don’t know if they actually understood enough about rhetoric and the language of rhetoric to understand where I was coming from. The students were still treating it like a social studies project. For example, when talking about Bernie Sanders, clearly he is going to talk a lot about Wall Street. How does he talk about Wall Street? How many times does he use that phrase “wall street”? And what are the words that he associates with Wall Street. We talked about how the language operated and how they created that language. I tried to make it clear to students why I wasn’t letting them choose Trump. We did talk about the language and did talk about the debates. I tried to make it clear that I do not want you, for instance, to spend your time looking at the debates for this project. I’m not interested in you watching the debates for this project. It needed to be something that was written, probably by a speech writer, someone who is trying to create a persuasive speech and the use of speech. There was open discussion about Trump but I decided that Trump does not fit into this model of this project.
Maddie: Did any students seem upset that they were not allowed to use Trump for this project?
Challacombe: Nobody said a word to me about being upset. I was surprised that somebody complained about it because nobody said anything to me. Not one kid came to me or wrote me an email or said a word. I was assuming that they understood why I made the decision to withhold Trump from this project. I think Trump is the more fun candidate and that if Trump was in the mix of candidates that could be chosen, most students would want to do Trump. Nobody said anything to me. I said over and over that I hope no one is being excluded so no one said a word to me.