Townsend: Make politics welcome in the classroom

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By Laura Townsend

Laura-Townsend@uiowa.edu

Politics should be welcome in the classroom. It can often feel overwhelming (and even impossible) to stay on top of the rapidity of news coming from the White House and beyond. Classroom conversation offers a chance for students to develop a comprehensive understanding of current events while letting them engage with students outside of their usual friend group. Many students are struggling to maintain a healthy mindset in these times, and safe, guided conversation is a way for them to express themselves and release emotion. At the same time, a diverse classroom discussion opens their minds to points of view and experiences that they may not have considered before.

Every Tuesday evening, I sit at a large conference table with 15 or so fellow students and discuss politics. This is not a school club or organization. It is a playwriting class. It is a playwriting class that is not politically focused. Still, our professor sets aside 45 minutes of our three-hour class to provide us with a safe and inclusive atmosphere to discuss a political world that we are all struggling to understand. I look forward to this 45-minute discussion every week. The discussion gives me the opportunity to ask questions, to think deeply about issues that have been weighing down my conscious, and to hear how other students are coping with and responding to today’s world. Sometimes, the professor relates the political conversation to theater and playwriting. Other times, the conversation moves far beyond the subject of our class. Either way, we leave having gained insight from our classmates and prepared to face the world for another week.

My fellow students in this playwriting class have made me feel supported and given me strength to keep standing up for my beliefs. I have learned to listen to others and to learn from them. Listening, just listening, is integral to progress, and it is a skill that must be practiced. It is far too easy to shut our ears to different experiences and opinions, but when we learn to listen to each other, we are provided with tools that can help us make our country inclusive for all. Classroom discussions have taught me the importance of listening and the value of support.

Having a professor to facilitate the conversation, to keep it welcoming and productive, is another asset to including politics in the class agenda. Simply having a mentor who tells us that our voices are important, that our opinions matter equally, gives us confidence and courage to face each new day. We are also able to learn how current events are important to the subject of the class. I wrote a piece last week on the importance of theater in politics, an article I could not have written without the knowledge gained from classroom conversation. Current events relate in some way to a plethora of subjects, from theater to biology.

Learning is meant to prepare us for the world. A wide range of knowledge will prepare us not only for our careers, but for our everyday lives. Students need to be given a space to learn from each other, express themselves, and gain new tools to face a politically heated atmosphere with confidence and an ability to listen. Welcoming politics into the classroom can do just that.

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