Sharpening Divisions, Pronounced Tribalism

In 2014, in an editorial in the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote about the unfortunate financial situation college students often find themselves in, but went on to describe other aspects of college:  “While these [financial] goals are important…there’s another dimension to college, and it’s one in which students aren’t being served, or serving themselves, especially well. I’m referring to the potential — and need–for college to confront and change political and social aspects of American life that are as troubling as the economy.  We live in a country of sharpening divisions, pronounced tribalism, corrosive polarization. And I wish we would nudge kids — no, I wish we would push them– to use college as an exception and a retort to that, as a pre-emptive strike against it, as a staging ground for behaving and living in a different, broader, healthier way.”

Do you agree with Bruni? I do. And I think our students are at a special disadvantage here, since so many are struggling really hard with financial issues and multiple jobs, live with their families, stay in high school groups, don’t mix in a dorm, and are not exposed intimately to people different than them. I encourage students to go ethnic events on campus and offer extra credit for it, but some are disinterested and many simply do not have the time.
Recently, the students interviewed each other for an introductory essay of the other person. In brainstorming questions to ask each other, one student asked tentatively, ” Can we ask them how they feel about politics?”  I agreed this is an important issue in our country today, and answered that they did not have to ask this question or answer this question, but that it was an appropriate question to ask if asked respectfully, such as “How do you feel about the state of America today? What do you think would make things better?”  We discussed importance of being agreeable even if we disagree.
Do you have strategies you use to help students reduce the “sharpening divisions and pronounced tribalism” of our society?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *