The Pullman debates were today. Listening to my students, working in characters in groups of two or three, as George Pullman (dressed in tails), Attorney General Olney (in a proper beard and a suit accompanied with a light saber), Governor Altgeld, Reverend Carwardine (who was actually dressed as a rabbi, complete with Tallis and yamulka–see above), the General Managers Association (GMA), Eugene Debs (wearing his image pinned to their t-shirts), Jane Addams (a young boy wearing his partner’s headband to push his hair back), General Miles and the federal troops, and of course the workers (with dirt streaked across their cheeks and props of pennies) was a delight.
The simulation, of course, never really happened in July of 1894, but the premise was whether we could come up with a serious resolution to end the strike had all the parties agreed to come to the table. For the most part, the students had fully invested in their characters and worked to convince each other of their points of view. Though the morning class got a bit wild, it was all because they were totally turned on by the activity. They had a hard time containing their exuberance and kept breaking into wild reaction at the end of each player’s presentation and sometimes before the presentations ended. The afternoon was more in control and their debate ended with the Attorney General ordering the Federal Troops to arrest Debs, who were both dragged into the hallway kicking and screaming.
Though Olney’s light saber was never used, resting next to his chair as a kind of futuristic threat and his beard needed to be pulled below his chin because he couldn’t speak easily through it, though there were several anachronistic references like minimum wage and movie theaters, though there was no actual rabbi in Pullman, the students demonstrated their ability to integrate a lot of research and weave it into carefully worded arguments, nested in enthusiasm, creativity, and middle school sensibility.
I love my job.