Michael Dies is the YES Prep Social Studies Content Specialist, the AP Government Course Leader, and an AP Government instructor at YES Prep Southeast. Below, you’ll find his guest blog post about the polarization of America and hear from some of his students.
Civic Education in a Polarized America: The Next Generation’s Views on How to Mend Our Deep Political Wounds
by Michael Dies
“More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican Party makes them ‘afraid’, while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party”, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2016. These numbers soar above 60% among individuals who self-identify as being highly engaged in politics, and since political engagement translates to political action, this means that the people most directly influencing and shaping our political landscape live in fear of people on the other side of the aisle.
Designing and executing YES Prep’s 12th grade Social Studies curriculum is, without doubt, the most important task I have undertaken as a professional because the aim of this work is to promote civic education and engagement among high school seniors. The foundation of democracy is civic discourse, and this discourse must be built upon a solid foundation of knowledge about the inner-workings of our political system. Thus, building this foundation within the people who are about to inherit this political system is vital work.
These stakes are why being asked to write a blog post about civic education left me initially vexed. How do I do justice to a subject like civic education? Talking about AP Government test results feels empty. Going on my own personal rant about our political system feels too self-indulgent. After much thought, it occurred to me that the best way to communicate the importance of civic education would be to put its effects on display.
To do this, I reached out to students from the classes of ‘15, ‘16, and ‘17 – all three years I have taught AP U.S. Government – and asked these students what they wanted to communicate about our political system. Below is a stitching together of their thoughts through this conversation, a conversation about what it is like to come of age politically in a deeply divided America.
The conversation began with students discussing what it feels like to be entering political maturity in today’s America, transitioned into a reflection about how we can overcome the problem of polarization that has infiltrated every part of our political dialogue, and ended by searching for optimism that this next generation will heal some of our political wounds. The quotes below seek to capture that trajectory of thought in their words.