A number of U.S. colleges are now pioneering workshops and other activities to help students, faculty and alumni learn to talk about politics without becoming nasty to each other.
The Wall Street Journal reports on a number of these programs this morning.
American University in Washington, D.C., for example, is hosting a new Project on Civil Discourse in its School of Public Affairs. It will consist of student-led discussions in dorms and clubs.
Wake Forest University in North Carolina, meanwhile, will promote dinner parties of 10 to 16 guests who will talk about issues while learning to be civil to those with whom they disagree.
Minnesota's Carleton College is expanding a program that places students from different backgrounds in dorms and encourages them to discuss such topics as "race and income inequality" Next year, this will even fulfill a course requirement.
This is an encouraging development.
Where can one have civil and free-ranging discussions if not in the university?
Just a few caveats.
Here is a description of what will go on at AU:
Students will reflect on their debate styles and talk through hypotheticals like whether to engage or kick out party guests who say hateful things.
The hateful epithet is thrown around way too much today. Will students be civil enough to evaluate what that over-worked adjective actually means? What actually constitutes hateful rhetoric? I fear that "hateful" has become a codeword for "disagrees with me."
But, yes, talking about this is a good start.
That the students at Carleton will be discussing "race and income inequality" makes me wonder if there is a bit of an agenda.
I hope it won't be considered hateful if someone stand-ups and say something like, "Race isn't half as important as we are led to believe," or, "Income inequality is far less important than having opportunities."
Civility can be dangerous–both sides, if they are civil, might learn new things.
Promoting civility is a very worthy goal.
Step in right direction.