Building Empathy, Bridging the Divide: Using Dialogue to Help Heal American Democracy (MSON) (History/Social Science Elective; US)

Spring; Grades 10–12
Prerequisite or corequisite: US History or Accelerated US History; background in Classics not required
Taught by: Waynflete School

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to engage in meaningful conversations with peers from across the political divide? Curious to learn more about how civil and uncivil discourse and actions have shaped the course of US history? Are you willing to challenge your own ideas and beliefs by learning how to listen and speak respectfully with others? Part political philosophy, part US history, and part practical skill building, this class is for anyone interested in a future in law, politics, civil service, or policy. We will use contentious political and social issues to converse with peers from across the country while seeking better understanding of others’ perspectives, as well as creating common ground, where possible. Throughout the semester, the class will focus on the following content:

• The origins of western political parties and what they represent today

• The foundations of US democracy from a new perspective, including how moments of civil unrest and civil cohesion have shaped US history

• The implications and consequences of increasingly divisive politics through the lenses of social cohesion, foreign policy, domestic policy, media literacy, economics, and equity

• Whether democracy relies on the notion of “informed citizens” cultivating the habit to respond to something that challenges one’s values or beliefs in a way that invites more information instead of vilifying others, and if so, why this is undervalued in current politics

• Why the political left and political right are so polarized and if there is a way to forge creative solutions to pervasive social issues through dialogue

In confronting these issues, you will hone the skills to engage in dialogue across differences, including self-awareness, perspective-taking and deeper inquiry. You will build your capacity to engage in contentious conversations around issues of politics, religion, social change, etc. and learn how to facilitate and lead these conversations with others. The semester will culminate with a group project in creative collaboration, including proposing possible solutions to pressing issues such as gun control, environmental policy, policing, or any other number of current challenges.

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