A group of 8th graders who declined to take a photo with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan during their class trip to DC demonstrate a serious lack of civility in politics. Shouldn’t we be teaching kids to patiently listen to those with whom they disagree?
Given the age of the kids in the Ryan brouhaha, I have a hard time believing this decision to “sit in a parking lot while their peers took part in the photo op” was their idea. Most 13- and 14-year-olds have neither read widely enough nor lived long enough to have fully formed, independent political views; they are more likely to parrot whatever they’ve learned from trusted adults. That’s why this behavior strikes me as not being about students standing up for their principles, as some people replied when I tweeted about this. Rather, it looks more like something that parents or teachers encouraged, either explicitly or implicitly.
The action also recalls the Notre Dame University graduates recently walking out on Vice President Pence speaking at their commencement. Again, those students don’t have to like or share Pence’s views. The polite thing to do would have been to sit and listen. The bold thing to do would have been requesting a private meeting with Pence where they might have engaged and even argued about ideas, rather than simply exiting en masse.
Democracy can’t function if we wall ourselves off, refusing to communicate or debate ideas. Engaged citizens must be able to think critically and articulate why one view is superior to another. Having spent six years as a student on a very liberal university campus, where professors and speakers regularly offered opinions I didn’t share, I can attest that not only did I survive, but I thrived. Regular exposure to differing views helped to sharpen my thinking and reasoning abilities. I believe my education was more valuable for it.
Photo credit: George Sheldon/Shutterstock.com