Onstage sparring between politicians has been a part of U.S. elections for decades. Covid-19 could change that.

When it aired on Sept. 26, 1960, the Kennedy-Nixon debate was the most watched event in the history of television. (Getty)

The year 2020 may have wrecked summer vacations, cancelled the Olympics and saved America from another Coachella, but this election season still promises to deliver at least one series of highly anticipated public spectacles: the presidential debates.

Three debates are scheduled between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joseph R. Biden in September and October, along with one between Vice President Mike Pence and Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris. These are weird times, though, and the debates will likely turn out to be pretty weird.

If you teach civics or history, maybe that’s good news. The differences between this…


Why are we not getting this right?

In 1937, when a polio outbreak closed Chicago schools, teachers turned to technology: radio. Classes were broadcast by teachers on at least six stations; lesson plans and assignments were published in newspapers.

When schools went remote as the pandemic took hold last spring, I started calling experts and educators to see if any educational institutions had a history of doing distance learning well. Retro Report’s mission is mining history for lessons about the present, so you could say this kind of research was my job.

The truth is, I was desperate.

My daughters, five and seven years old, normally adore school but it got to the point that my 5-year-old one day concluded — in a tone of beyond-her years, existential bafflement — “Daddy, I think I hate my iPad.”

But in…

Illustration: Qu Tianran

Educators and parents have let technology solve school in a pandemic. There’s a better way.

When authorities issued stay-at-home orders at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, schoolchildren worldwide entered what has to be the largest — and probably least welcome — distance-learning experiment in the history of education.

Across the United States, parents and kids were struggling, teachers were losing their minds, and political leaders were asking, “Why weren’t we ready?” But in a few obscure corners of the K-12 education world, some schools were ready, and they’ll tell you they’ve handled the crisis just fine, thanks. …

Losing a fight can be quite clarifying

Photo: kali9 / Getty Images

It’s hard to overstate the clarifying power of losing a fight. For the last few years, I’ve kept a standing appointment to lose several, mostly on weekday mornings.

My preferred genre of fight-losing comes in a gym for jiujitsu, a martial art some UFC fighters employ when they grapple on the ground. It’s wrestling, basically, with a mean endgame.

I should say right here that I’m quite bad at jiu-jitsu. If the sport were high school, I’d be fumbling my way through an undistinguished freshman term. …

Erik German

Senior Producer at Retro Report, which uses history to explain today. Dad to two formidable girls.

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