Revisiting acknowledging diversity in thinking within the classroom: The Post-Election Edition

The election is over and Donald J. Trump has been inaugurated as the 45TH President of the United States. Now, the real work begins in our country, communities, and especially in our classrooms. Less than a year ago in a blog entitled, “Allowing humbug in the classroom: Acknowledging diversity in thinking,” I compared Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge to a student in the classroom with an unpopular opinion. In my classroom experiences, students may engage in debate-like dialogues on a variety of topics about what is correct (right) and what is incorrect (wrong). The presidential election was a topic that was not immune to such debate-like dialogue.
Some educators tried to avoid the issue, some tried to tiptoe around it, some connected it to classroom content, and some had direct dialogues about events as they unfolded. How these dialogues played out within the classroom may have ruptured relationships and created an ‘us versus them’ mentality. Democrats versus Republicans. Liberals versus Conservatives. Bridges versus walls.  Further still, some dialogues may have unified a classroom because of shared beliefs. However, evedonkey_and_elephantn if our students all claim to have similar beliefs in a classroom, this is not normative of the larger US society and our students need to know how to work collaboratively with those who hold different political viewpoints than they do. It is dangerous to demonize someone who does not agree with you or is not like you. Ultimately it creates more barriers to communication.
In Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind (2009), he states that ideology that positions one as right and the other as wrong is dangerous. Haidt supports the social constructionist idea “that there might really be more than one form of moral truth or more than one valid framework for judging people or running a society” (p. 130).  Haidt concludes that “liberals and conservatives are like yin and yang—both are ‘necessary elements of a healthy state of political life’” (p. 365).
The collaboration of these two opposing viewpoints and diversity of moral foundations sounds reasonable and desirable, but as we have seen it is difficult to achieve. Haidt declares, “Some degree of conflict among groups may even be necessary for the health and development of any society” (p. xx).  However, it is too early to tell if this reconciliation will happen or if more fragmentation will occur in the future. However, the goal should not be that we all think and feel the same. A society in which all conform to identical thinking can be considered robotic and monotonous. Benjamin Franklin stated, “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”
Now we have to apply this information to our microcosm of society; the classroom. In the November 6th, 2016 edition of The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss writes “Now more than ever, teachers and students have to actively reject hate talk and bullying in order to create learning environments that let us all debate complex political positions without denigrating entire populations. Together, educators and students can proactively learn to ‘attack’ the thing said, not the speaker, by asking people for the evidence behind their claims and offering evidence behind our own. Together, we can consider when our words misrepresent or disrespect others. Together, we can seek accurate information about social issues and learn about other people’s actual experiences and perspectives. We can refuse intimidation talk and insist instead on engaging ideas. And together, we can consider when we’re fully informed or have more to learn.”
Strauss is advocating for a differences to be addressed in a constructive and respectful way. We cannot rewind what has happened in our classrooms surrounding the 2016 Presidential Election, but we can move forward with renewed purpose and vision of what comes next. How this looks for each individual is unique and this blog is not prescriptive in nature. However, the ability to have and express diverse thoughts and opinions will lead to more personal insight and growth.  Brother Ernest J. Miller and Dr. Dawn Meza Soufleris of LaSalle University remind us “No matter our political affiliation, we must step back from the toxicity of our political discourse whereby we can have free expression but don’t need to accept the hate and fear mongering expressed in the campaign.”  Are you ready to take on this challenge?

Haidt, J. (2009). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.  New York: Vintage Books