Thinking the other day about political polarization in this country, I realized that it's my fault. And the fault of everyone in my profession. On their behalf, I am sorry. We let you down. According to the Pew Research Center, we're a mess. We are more divided, in the sense that there are greater numbers of people who express rigid beliefs, either liberal or conservative. There is greater antipathy between the adherents of each group. We more regularly inhabit "ideological silos", that is, we are friends with people who share our political views (although this is more common on the right than the left). We separate ourselves geographically. Those who express an admixture of right and left are fewer and fewer, in effect, the center is shrinking. And the most ideological of us are posting most regularly online.
There are likely a number of causes we can blame, including social media. Again, the Pew Research Center took a look at the various habits, and, surprisingly, we tend to cluster with those of similar political viewpoints online, as well. Conservatives express greater suspicion of the media, while liberals are more likely to drop a friend who expresses differing political views.
All this is effect, not cause.
The cause is found in education. Educators (I use this term expressly, to distinguish them from teachers. As a small excursus, I would like to point out the difference. An educator, in my mind, is a person who can't wait to get an M.A. or M.S. in Education, or worst yet, an Ed.D -- notice that Ph.D means Doctor of Philosophy, or love of Wisdom, apparently Ed.Ds don't love wisdom -- in order to get out of the classroom and into administration, or more uselessly, consulting. You'll rarely find an educator in a classroom, and you'll rarely find a teacher out of it.) have sought to make schools "safe places". Now, physical safety is quite right, no student should every be in fear of their well-being. But someone got the damnfool idea that students need to be protected from any threat. Including any threat to their precious world view or self-concept.
In essence, someone thought that we should make schools places where students wouldn't have their feelings hurt, their ideas challenged, or their limits tested. Teachers have been told that we must be on guard to avoid "hate speech", "microaggression", "triggers", and all the other stuff that I stopped listening to during those interminable in services. Now, students aren't to be challenged, but encouraged and congratulated for their effort, because we're all winners in the end. School has become little kid soccer, where we run around for an hour and everyone gets a trophy.
But what this does it keeps our children from every confronting anything outside their own bubble, and when they do confront it, they throw a temper tantrum. They kick and scream and refuse to listen, and this encourages them to hang out with only people they will agree with. If I don't like what you say, instead of challenging your idea, or worst yet, evaluating mine, I will simply unfriend you.
This encourages our little snowflakes to avoid confrontation in a mature fashion, or express anything event remotely resembling tolerance. Tolerance is accepting the fact that someone believes differently than you and still carrying on a conversation. If an idea is one that you disagree with, argue against it, bring your evidence and your logic. But our students now dismiss opposing arguments with ad hominem attacks, or worse yet, they demand your silence.
So, instead of encouraging lively debate in the classroom, where a student's beliefs must be tested in the arena, and through testing, can become better, we are left with delicate little flowers with excellent self-esteem and no ability to face the world as it is. Instead of fearing for their feelings, teachers should be testing (truly testing, not this PARCC excrementum), pushing, challenging every student to stand and defend whatever they state or believe. If a student is wrong, we should tell him or her so, and prove it, and then teach them how to be right. If a student is right, we should applaud them, and push them further.
A student the other day said to me "You're a teacher, shouldn't you encourage us?" My answer, truly believed and stated, was "No. My job is to swing a 2 x 4 at your head. Because at some point, you'll figure out how to duck. Do you know what life is going to do? Life will swing a 2x4 at your head and kick you in the crotch. Life wants to kill you. It's my job to make you safe for the world."
I'm doing my best.
But sorry, nonetheless.