So if you did as you were asked and read that LA Times article on “politics as religion,” you might have been a bit depressed about our future as a civil democracy. When people condemn any policy view other than their own as blasphemy, how can debate not slide inevitably into absurd name calling? When people hold their political beliefs so blindly that it is impossible to discuss fact or ideas with them, how can we avoid snowballing into violent separation?
Pollyanna here, though, found her rose-tinted glasses this morning. To the rescue of my outlook comes a new Georgian, our university system vice chancellor, with hope to repair civil discourse for future generations.
Just teach ’em all debate in school.
I encourage you to read both these articles in full and think about them. But here are some excerpts from Dr. Herbst’s piece in Inside Higher Ed today:
There are many people, organizations and institutions that teach debate . . . But the basic elements are the same across formats: Argument, evidence, forced reciprocity and dialogue, equal time, and mandatory listening. These are precisely the elements missing from much of the contemporary debate about health care reform, and I predict they will be absent as well from the worrisome debates coming next, immigration policy reform in particular. These aspects of communication are the very building blocks for civility, and at this point at least, we have a deficit of them.
. . .
Why not, similarly, consider formal debate training, as a mandatory – or at least greatly encouraged – aspect of a college curriculum?
. . .
The point is that we need to give students exemplars, somehow, so they can lead others toward structures for talking, listening, and constructive exchange, based on mutual respect and decency.