Sunday, September 12, 2010

Civil discourse

So I just learned something yesterday that I've never heard before.  Apparently, back in the 1930s and 40s, American academics concerned about the rise of fascism in Europe made a conscious effort to teach courses on how to discuss sensitive public policy questions, well, sensitively.  In other words, they apparently saw some link between society's inability to peacefully and rationally discuss political differences and the rise of polarizing, ideologically-driven parties (e.g., the German Nazi Party).  The person that brought this up to me said that, at one time, over 1% of the US population had taken part in such courses.  Based on my quick and dirty research, that comes out to approximately 1.3 million course-takers based on the estimated population in 1935. 

Obviously, these academics were on to something.  While European fascism is something for the history books, we definitely have our own batch of unique challenges today -- which our current political environment seems utterly incapable of handling capably and civilly.   

For those of you reading this post, do you feel like your education and other experiences (e.g., clubs, student associations, general education requirements) helped, hindered or were ineffective in helping you cooly and rationally discussing 'hot-button' issues?  If not, what can we do to encourage this essential form of civic education?

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