Skip to main content

IDHE Report: Readiness for Discussing Democracy in Supercharged Political Times

IDHE Report: Readiness for Discussing Democracy

This paper is a reprint with permission from the book chapter: Thomas, Nancy. “Politics 365: Fostering Campus Climates for Student Political Learning and Engagement.,” in Creating Space for Democracy: A Primer on Dialogue and Deliberation in Higher Education, eds. Nicholas V. Longo and Timothy J. Shaffer. Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2019.

In it, IDHE Director Nancy Thomas explores what takes for higher educators to be ready to engage students in discussions about the state of and controversial issues in democracy. At a minimum, discussion leaders and teachers need the skills to frame, organize, and manage discussions. Beyond basic facilitation skills, however, readiness also calls for reflection and conscious decisions about anticipated pedagogical choices in a discussion process, decision points best considered before a discussion begins. Should all perspectives get a fair hearing, even if they reflect ideas antithetical to learning goals or institutional values? Should beliefs that contradict established science or evidence get a full hearing? Do feelings belong in a deliberation? Should discussion leaders and teachers aspire to be “neutral,” and if so, what does that mean? Answers to these and similar questions are particularly hard in today’s hyperpartisan and divisive political climate.