By Anoushna, a high school junior & WIT Teen, in New York City.
- Youth today are living in a more polarized society than ever, with an increasing perception gap in politics and the media.
- This is creating a social issue for students, but schools can get involved to continue to be places of progressive thinking.
- Even if we have different views, schools need to take action to expose students to a breadth of political views and open their understanding of current events.
The recent political crisis in the U.S. has highlighted how polarized our society has become – whether it’s politicians, the media, or the general public. While social media adds to the isolation of political views, there is a deeper problem of differences across the political spectrum. People are frequently even unwilling to consider dialogue with those who have different views. Emotionally charged debates have left families and friends choosing to avoid the subject to keep the peace, or venting and turning away from each other. It is time for schools to acknowledge this as a serious social issue. Schools need to get involved and find a way to assist our society’s new and future leaders.
The Perception Gap
The vast and growing gap between Democrats and Republicans has caused a stark division between Americans. Each year, supporters of the opposing parties increasingly widen a divide between themselves over their different beliefs and perspectives. A recent study shows, however, that the perceived differences between the two parties are actually a result of misunderstanding and generalized preconceptions. The study called “The Perception Gap” highlighted how Democrats have exaggerated, negative perceptions of Republican views and vice versa. The study suggests the growing disconnect in the understanding of the opposing political party is responsible for the stark division.
Political affiliation is one example of this polarization. In general, there is a deep suspicion between people with conservative leanings and those with more progressive leanings. The suspicion and lack of appreciation of why alternative views are held are unfortunately used by news stations to appeal to their particular audience. News stations with different political views often portray a narrowly focused or distorted view of the same event. As people tend to trust news sources that reaffirm their own beliefs – leading to confirmation bias – people are usually not exposed to the larger picture, but rather kept in a bubble.
What Schools Can Do
Schools and colleges are typically places of progressive thinking, where society nurtures its future thought leaders. Looking back over the history of Western education in the 20th and 21st centuries, most new political movements were either created or at the very least strongly supported by the youth. Naturally, schools continue to be the place of progressive thought.
However, political polarization creates a significant problem. People do not want to discuss middle grounds and instead spend more time in the bubbles of their own opinions. These bubbles also vilify the other side, making it even less appealing to discuss.
Schools need to teach young people the art of listening to others even without the intention of changing their minds. It is important to be able to accept differences of opinion, even if the different opinion is itself not acceptable.
The ability to understand why someone reasonable can have an opposing opinion to you and interact with them is a skill that has diminished in recent times. Schools need to step in to help foster students who can learn to forge a middle ground. Recently, schools and the education system seem to have forgotten that the word liberal means to be open to different views.
The Art of Dialogue
Introducing students and the youth to a breadth of opinions on current events will help foster their critical thinking skills and open their minds to forge their own opinions that are not swayed by preconceptions. It will also allow them to be able to defend their views under critical review, which will sharpen their understanding of their own beliefs. Finally, the discussion will allow those under the sway of significant misinformation a chance to be exposed to more factual information, without feeling threatened.
This approach actually does exist today, when people discuss varied cultural backgrounds. People allow for differences in attitudes, traditions, foods, clothing, and practices, without trying to force their own views. It has been hard to allow for such debates in the political sphere since the discussion there seems to want to define the “uniquely best American way”. It’s time that the schools taught us again that we are all Americans, even if we have different views.
Author Bio: Anoushna Bardhan is a high school junior from New York City. She is interested in environmental, sustainable design, entrepreneurship, and journalism.