2. Engage in dialogue, not debate
Some of my students come from very conservative households; others have extremely liberal beliefs. My lessons on demographics and political socialization help students understand how each of us develops our own belief systems. Through class discussions and assignments, students have the chance to reflect on life experiences that have shaped their political views—family of origin, media, religion, gender, and socioeconomics can all play a role.
Thinking about the things that have contributed to their own views provides students with some understanding about why different people come to different conclusions about the same issue. By the time we discuss an event in the news, they are ready to engage in dialogue, not debate. Debate creates a need to be “right” and perpetuates closed-minded thinking, while a dialogue allows for reflection on both sides of an issue.
3. Analyze the media
Finally, no course on government and politics would be complete without a look at the media and its role in shaping our belief systems. Teaching students about the value of freedom of the press as a watchdog of our government, yet also exploring the bias that exists among many media outlets, are both important factors when evaluating information from which we form our views. I encourage my students to evaluate three news sources and identify if any bias exists based on story placement, word choice, and what the outlet chooses to cover (or not cover).
It is definitely a challenging and exciting time to be teaching government and politics. Over the last decade, each group of students seems more engaged than the one before it. Giving future (and some current!) voters a platform to understand the structure of our government, ideas that steer various political beliefs, and the ability to share those ideas are vital parts of shaping our American democracy.
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