As we delve deeper into the holiday season, many of us may find ourselves in the midst of contentious discussions. The events of 2020 have brought a host of challenging issues to the surface as we reach levels of political polarization not seen for decades. Irrespective of the many factors that got us here, one of the most important questions now is how do we have meaningful conversations in the midst of it? Especially in conversations with relatives and other loved ones—conversations in which establishing bonds of familiarity and shared history is often not required—what does it look like to reach across ideological chasms to engage in productive dialogue? Whether around the dinner table, in a place of worship, or over a virtual video chat, we need to hone these interpersonal skills if we are to move forward.
As we await the outcome of last night’s presidential election, teachers are faced with unique challenges. Many questions surface: How do we process the diverse range of reactions that these events may provoke in our students? And how can we do it without venturing into partisan territory that may alienate, divide, and exclude? How can we process our own emotional reactions to these events while still showing up for students? The answers to these questions will continue to show themselves over the coming weeks but below are a number of resources that educators can use to navigate these demands starting today.
The history of debate and civil discourse between candidates running for political office in the United States has long been held up as a pillar of our elections process and our democracy. Typically used as a means to debate policy publicly, defend positions, and appeal to voters, debates bring candidates into the same space and ask them to adhere to a set of agreed upon rhetorical rules of engagement. As we approached the first 2020 presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, many hoped for a sound policy discussion that would leave them with a strong sense of each candidates’ beliefs and positions. What we saw instead was a distressing abandonment of our accepted norms and expectations of civil discourse in favor of a confusing, hostile, and demoralizing exchange on the global stage.
How do we talk about issues that matter? The exchange of ideas, perspectives and arguments is essential to democracy and humane societies. As philosopher Hannah Arendt argued in Men in Dark Times,
Topics: civil discourse
During the holiday season, we often find ourselves sitting across our family members, trying to keep our conversations civil and polite, particularly when politics surface. It's important to remember the same type of civil discourse is needed at the virtual table. Here's five tips for civic dialogue that we can all keep in mind for ourselves—and the young people around us who are growing up in a social media landscape.
Topics: civil discourse
I am of the first generation in my family to grow up with the Internet at home as a tween and teen. Granted, we had Prodigy and AOL, and I had to make sure no one was on the phone to get my weekly Baby Sitter’s Club story. Still, one thing that was true then remains true now: as a teen I was a lot savvier about online spaces than my dad. In fact, my dad relied on me to get our AOL set up when we got our first computer. So it may surprise you when I tell you that kids today—despite being born into the age of social media and interconnectedness—can be terrible at navigating this digital landscape.
Topics: civil discourse
South Africans, like many people in the United States right now, and many in Colombia and the United Kingdom, have been thinking deeply about who we are, where we came from, and where we are heading as a country. In 2016, South Africans also woke up, one morning, to a changing shift in the political landscape—a view we had become accustomed to. What seemed unlikely once was now before our eyes. Local government elections saw major cities across the country, including Pretoria, the seat of government, now in the hands of the opposition. Where once race divided our votes, now the need for an accountable, honest, and committed government has begun to unite us.
In the wake of the divisive United States election, educators are in a unique position to help students develop their skills as civic actors, thinkers, upstanders, and problem-solvers. This work isn’t easy in the best of times, but it’s particularly challenging during times of deep division and intolerance.
The following resources—from Facing History and our partners at StoryCorps—are designed to help your students gain critical thinking skills, empathy and tolerance, and a sense of civic responsibility.
This was a particularly difficult election for the United States. It exposed deep divisions and it was a year of ugly rhetoric and angry, sometimes violent, exchanges among people. Racism, misogyny, sexual assault, xenophobia, antisemitism, and just plain cruelty headlined news stories and became trending topics across social media. Many Americans could not wait for November 9th to arrive just so it would be over and they could move on. But “moving on” isn’t going to help Americans to address the tensions and issues raised by the long campaign season and the election itself. The election was a mirror held up to Americans, exposing deep damage and it created more at the same time.
I’ve always believed we can inspire young people to create a more compassionate future through education, both formally and informally.
While programs like Facing History educate our middle and high school students to promote a more humane and informed citizenry through examining racism and prejudice in historic events, I haven’t found much support for us, as adults, in tackling difficult topics like race, hatred, and bigotry in a respectful manner.