Can Developing Virtues Improve Dialogue Across Political Difference? The Case Study of Philosophy 291: Dialogue and Civil Discourse

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Megan Halteman Zwart


After the polarizing 2016 presidential election, I heard from many distressed students who felt they lacked the skills or confidence to have difficult conversations with those who disagreed with them politically. In response, I developed a course that aims to help students grow in the virtues and skills necessary for listening and dialogue, putting these to use discussing controversial issues including abortion, gun rights and regulations, cancel culture, speech on campus, immigration, environmental policy, and kneeling for the national anthem. In this article, I make the case for foregrounding virtues such as attentiveness, curiosity, intellectual humility, and empathy to promote good dialogue and prepare students to engage productively across difference. Then, I describe the course design, share qualitative results from student reflections, and highlight insights that are applicable across disciplines. Finally, I address practical obstacles and ethical concerns that have arisen when teaching polarizing topics and offer responses to these challenges.


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Halteman Zwart, M. (2021). Can Developing Virtues Improve Dialogue Across Political Difference? The Case Study of Philosophy 291: Dialogue and Civil Discourse. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 21(4).
Pedagogy of the Polarized


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