This winter, I taught a course in Current Affairs. As per the course description, it is designed to “encourage students to keep themselves informed about problems at the local, national, and international levels and to develop a critical attitude toward those problems.” To give structure to the class, we focused primarily on the topic of nationalism, since it’s a hot topic given the recent shift in national leadership.
One group of students wrote an essay on why they think President Trump’s version of nationalism is good for the country. It was a worthwhile learning experience for them to collaboratively draft the essay. But the real learning took place when I read the essay, because I’m not a proponent of President Trump. As their professor, I had to discern the credibility of their sources and the value of their argument. I didn’t have to agree with the argument—I just had to make sure it was well defended.
What I learned from the process of reading the essay, and by talking about it with its authors, was the value in understanding a political perspective that you don’t agree with. By the time the course ended, the students effectively articulated the value of a Trump presidency—in the essay and in a follow-up presentation. I still don’t agree with their argument, but I value knowing their perspectives and researched opinions.
I wish more people could have the experience I had with these students. The polarized discourse in the United States is fed by people talking only to those who share their political perspectives. The hard work of engaging in dialogue with someone you disagree with is the next step in the process, if we hope to bring resolution to our country’s political and cultural rifts.
Some of the students who wrote the essay on Trump are signed up for another course I’m teaching this term. Here’s hoping our political conversations, and opinions, continue to develop as we educate each other.