Modern American Issues: Current Today, History Tomorrow


Nichole Hall '19

Students prepare in groups for a debate.

 Mr. Young gathered the history department together to announce a new class centered around studying current events. When he asked for teachers who were interested in teaching the class, Mr. McAleer’s hand shot straight up.

  “So, I never really planned on it, it just kind of happened,” Mr. McAleer said, “I was more than happy to help write the curriculum and get involved because it’s been a very rewarding class.”

  The class centers around different topics the students choose to study such as: economics, fine arts and literature, politics, sports, entertainment, and government. Certain topics must be covered, such as financial literacy, as the class covers the personal finance requirements. Some topics may also get pushed to the wayside in favor of more recent, important events.

  “It can be local news one day, national news the next day…” Mr. McAleer said. “I just love the unpredictability. Everyday is a clean slate and it keeps us on our toes.”

  Class participation plays a big role in making the class enjoyable and productive. Students are encouraged to find news stories to address in class. The only homework assigned is to keep up with news. However, Mr. McAleer stated that students are told to find different sources for each story to get different viewpoints.

  “If you’re gonna watch CNN, you better pop on Fox.” Mr. McAleer said. “Any writer, no matter how good they are, every human being is going to have a bias. You’ve got to be able to recognize bias.”

  Mr. McAleer explained that debates start informally. As students learn and research more, these debates progress into in-depth discussions between the entire class. Students form groups with peers who hold the same viewpoint and begin researching as much as they can on the topic. Once a sufficient amount of information is collected, students get to work co-writing their formal arguments.

  Mr. McAleer requires the students to write pros, cons, and opening statements to start their group’s debate, and even creating counterarguments in preparation for others’ responses, “We’re going to come up with arguments against the cons to strengthen your argument.”

  Giving both sides in the debate equal treatment is extremely important. Even when the topics are controversial, all views are respected. Mr. McAleer wants to teach his students to learn how to disconnect from the animosity that breaks out in fights on Twitter and instead treat an argument with understanding and courtesy. He teaches students how to calmly disagree with the other side without getting hysterical, hoping that they’ll pass the skill to their peers.

  “You can disagree with someone without being vehement about it; without demonizing the other side.” Mr. McAleer said. “It’s important to remember that you can’t let your emotions get the best of you when making an argument. You have to be sound, you have to have evidence behind you. Otherwise, people may not listen to you if you sound hysterical.”

  If a student is uncomfortable with participating verbally in a class debate, he or she can turn to Google Classroom. By sharing their responses as either a private or public comment, they will still get the required participation points. iPads are actively used in Modern American Issues; assignments are posted and submitted through Google Classroom and students are encouraged to surf the web both in and out of class for various articles.

  Modern American Issues is available at Honors or Accelerated level, and lasts a semester. If interested in engaging in debates about serial killers, political hearings, has-been celebrities, local government officials, and even international scandals, Modern American Issues is your class.

 Mr. McAleer hopes that students take away lessons and skills they’ll use for the future “It’s paramount that we understand why the United States is the way it is today,” Mr. McAleer said, “how it got there, and where we go from here.”