Opinion: A recent video showing a heated argument between ASU students shows just how polarizing we have become. It is also an opportunity to speak honestly and civilly.
You may have seen the recent video recorded at Arizona State University Multicultural Center showing a heated argument between the students.
In the video, two students clash with a third who posted a “Police Lives Matter” sticker on his laptop. The video sparked discussions of America’s highly polarized climate over issues of race, social justice and free speech on campus.
Since then, the dean of the ASU student office has issued a statement noting that “differences of opinion are part of the university experience. The university expects a respectful dialogue between students in all engagements.
American society must uphold the civic virtue of civil disagreement, so that the freedom to express dissenting opinions is constructive, rather than just angry or emotional.
We have taken civic virtue for granted, having failed over the past decades to adequately invest in civic education in our schools. Very few universities and colleges require civics or American history classes for graduates, as if being an informed and engaged citizen of a complex republic was a straightforward task.
The founders knew we had to talk about our differences
Not surprisingly, the past decade has shown increasing depths of political polarization; political violence from both left and right is almost normal.
At the birth of our constitutional order, the authors of The Federalist Papers warned that freedom can devolve into factionalism, and the division into opposing camps is often motivated as much by passion or narrow interests as by reasonable concerns.
Factionalization endangers “the rights of other citizens” or the common good of the community.
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and later George Washington, in his “farewell speech” urged us all to settle our differences through open and sincere discussion in order to avoid mutual demonization and mere partisan conflict.
By distributing power and decision-making among institutions, and in national and local spaces, the founders sought to promote more reasonable modes of disagreement and compromise – rather than denunciation or cancellation.
Washington has repeatedly advocated a civil discourse to deal with the perpetual disagreement expected in a free and diverse society.
What ASU is doing to help foster civil debate
These ideas are increasingly relevant in the 21st century, with digital media and a much more diverse population attempting to navigate our complex constitutional order.
Our country has known times of disagreement and division, with long periods of political violence and even civil war. But we do know that great reformers of political and social justice, from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Martin Luther King, Jr. have emphasized robust speech rather than harsh words as a path to lasting justice.
Instead of feeling outraged by the angry voices recorded on the video, every citizen should reflect on what they are doing to support and practice constructive means of disagreement on divisive political and social issues.
It is a growing concern in universities. ASU leadership had previously convened a committee to review the required courses of all undergraduates, and civics education is on the agenda.
The Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is developing a curriculum in digital media education for K-12 schools and higher education.
Additionally, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law has partnered with our interdisciplinary department, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, to sponsor this year’s lecture series on the same topic angrily addressed in the video. viral – Can We Talk Honestly About Running?
It doesn’t mean shout or cancel
Talking is not shouting or canceling, and the series will feature dialogues that embody civil disagreement over difficult issues.
But universities and colleges aren’t the only forums that should consider whether they are renewing or undermining the foundations of civil disagreements and constructive governance compromises in our civic order.
The prosperity and power of our country does not make us invulnerable to failures in foreign and domestic affairs.
Abraham Lincoln warned, two decades before the Civil War, of the need for education in common constitutional principles and civic virtues as a defense against mutual intolerance and increasing violence. We cannot ignore this lesson.
With this in mind, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership continues our series of public lectures, the Civic Discourse Project, as a forum for diverse expert perspectives on pressing social issues. It is no coincidence that for this academic year, we have chosen the theme “Renewing America’s Civic Compact”.
We have no choice but to adopt a strong discourse through different points of view, but we must also re-engage with the principles of civil dialogue on the most controversial issues.
Paul Carrese, PhD, is Principal of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. Carol McNamara, PhD, is associate director of public programs at the school. Contact them at [email protected] and [email protected]