Schools should teach students the skills to productively take part in political discussions.This helps resolve our political divide and increases political awarenessin young people says Troy Shen
The political divide illustrated by the U.S. presidential elections of 2016 and 2020 has spread across our nation, including schools. Schools should be a hub to communicate and grow ideals, but that’s not the case today.
As a student and passionate follower of politics, I’ve found it difficult to discuss controversial topics and exchange views to expand my knowledge at school. Everyone feels judged when they offer a political opinion. With teachers, when I mention current news, I have to try extremely hard to keep my political views subtle. With friends, I rarely mention politics, for fear of offending someone or annoying them.
I find that most of my classmates are either tired of the current political climate or reject any mention of ideals that oppose their own. For me, trying to converse in political discussions feels like treading through an unmarked minefield.
Many of my peers have accepted this political climate as the norm, but for people like me who want to expand their political knowledge, this makes it too difficult. Schools can – and should – be part of the solution by teaching basic communication skills to use while discussing different and opposing ideas with each other. I would like to see schools teach the following skills, which would help students to have civil and informative political discussions.
Learn to Listen.
First, students need to be taught to listen to a diverse set of arguments. From my experiences, when boundaries are not acknowledged and opinions are ignored, the discussion either becomes a furious screaming match or becomes really awkward. To avoid this, I show that my opposing opinion is just an opinion by the end of the day; we still can be acquaintances with differing views. I simply am trying to expand my political knowledge. I can be wrong at times. There are many, many, many more topics we could relate to each other and both agree on.
Students also need to learn that when trying to get points across, it is important to voice ideas and opinions clearly. If we don’t, we might be debating different subjects or actually agree with each other – it will be hard to tell.
To get my point across, I speak slowly and clearly with a friendly tone and get straight to the point, so that people can understand what I mean. When listening, I avoid interrupting and let whoever is speaking finish what they are saying so that I understand their point. It is equally as important to clearly state one’s point as it is to understand the opposing debater’s point.
Acknowledge opposing points.
It’s also critical that we acknowledge opposing points. I do not have to agree with the point, but I must at least understand why the person I’m talking to feels the way they do. Most arguments have some grounding in reason – while in my eyes it might not be logical or compelling, there is no way I can convince someone of the weakness in their argument without putting myself in their shoes to understand their reasoning.
Once I have understood their reasoning, I can point out flaws or amend responses accordingly. They can do the same with my points, and the conversation moves on.
These key communication skills can be taught at school – and they don’t need to be taught in a political context. Students can learn by debating fun topics like, “Which video game character is better than another.”
Talking with others who don’t share our views is unavoidable, and having schools teach tips to allow us to be better at such discussions will not only help resolve our political divide and increase political awareness but will allow us to debate any topic in good faith.
Troy is the co-president of the Michigan Youth Empowerment Foundation's Youth Leadership committee, a Youth-Led organization aiming to make a difference in their community. Troy is a passionate volunteer to his community and has won Gold recognition from the President's Volunteer Service Award.