Overcoming Polarization: The Importance of Civil Discourse in a Divided World | Facing History & Ourselves
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Overcoming Polarization: The Importance of Civil Discourse in a Divided World

Facing History offers tools that can help navigate conversations on polarizing topics with empathy, self-awareness, and critical thinking.

Healthy dialogue is characterized by open, respectful exchanges where diverse viewpoints are encouraged and valued. This type of dialogue promotes critical thinking, empathy, and understanding. It allows us all to explore different perspectives and develop the skills necessary to engage in constructive conversations about complex issues. Critical thinking in particular is vital for recognizing and addressing misinformation and counteracting extremist narratives with analysis of facts.

We all know, and can see, that the impact of polarization can be profound. It can lead to increased stress and anxiety, as well as a diminished ability to process differing opinions. This can erode the sense of a cohesive culture within our communities and increase feelings of isolation or marginalization. Knowing how to engage in healthy dialogue is key to developing relationships with people outside our immediate social “bubbles” and broadening our perspectives and awareness of those who hold different views and beliefs. Another step to consider is to break out of our individual media bubbles by following a variety of news sources that examine issues from different political angles. AllSides is a great resource to find out more about the political leanings of different news outlets.

Remember, we are all human and share common ground, even when it feels we are polar opposites. If you feel the possibility of civil discourse slipping away, connect back to our shared humanity.

Preparing for Complex Conversations

Civil discourse does not mean you must compromise your values. While it’s important for all people within society to keep an open mind, and be willing to change those minds if new information warrants it, it is also important to be able to stand up for your beliefs and be able to support your ideas with words and actions. Try to do the following to encourage honest civil discourse:

  • Identify personal biases and assumptions that influence your perspectives
  • Make comments using “I” statements
  • Listen for understanding of diverse viewpoints
  • If someone says an idea or question that helps your own learning, say thank you
  • Express thoughts and emotions clearly and constructively to maximize comprehension, and if you don’t understand something, ask a question
  • Share the talking time—provide room for others to speak

Destructive polarization may occur when people approach discourse with a focus on passing judgment over exhibiting curiosity. To try and mitigate the unpleasant and hurtful intensity that can come from destructive polarization, try to avoid the following:

  • Making assumptions
  • Raising your voice
  • Acting exasperated, either in tone or body language
  • Interrupting
  • Using derogatory language or language that may be construed as harmful

The following Facing History resources are great entry points for educators eager to help bridge divides occurring in your classroom or school. Pick and choose the topics of focus that resonate with the challenges you face.

Understanding Polarizing Topics

Professional Learning: Teaching about Controversial Issues in Polarized Times
This webinar explores ways educators can navigate the challenges of discussing polarizing civic topics in their classrooms.

Building Self-Awareness and Empathy

Virtual Community Event: Combating Bias & Isolation in Adolescence: Strategies for Teachers and Families
The question is considered: how can teachers and families work together to help young people develop their understanding of themselves and the world around them?

Professional Learning: Hearing from Our Youth: Experiences with Hate and Its Impact on Jewish Identity
In this webinar students share their personal encounters with antisemitism, the effect it has on their Jewish identity, and how they respond in the face of it.

Facilitating Dialogue

Guide: Fostering Civil Discourse: How Do We Talk About Issues That Matter?
The ideas and tools in this guide will help you prepare students to engage in reflective conversations on topics that matter.

Professional Learning: Current Events in Your Classroom: Fostering Dialogue in Divisive Times
This half hour webinar introduces you to our current events resources designed to foster thoughtful classroom conversations and build your students’ capacities for critical thinking, emotional engagement, ethical reflection, and civic agency.

Addressing Misinformation and Extremism

Professional Learning: Facing Hate: Confronting Antisemitism in Our Schools
Young people are exposed to antisemitism in rapidly changing ways, both on school campuses and on unmonitored digital spaces like social media platforms and gaming sites. Hear our panel conversation with classroom teachers as we unpack the challenges and opportunities of addressing antisemitism in classrooms.

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