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Civil discourse

New York Teacher

My recent letter concerning Elizabeth Warren’s advocacy for relieving students of their college debt, whereby I suggested that students be required to perform public service in exchange for such relief, produced some provocative responses.

A colleague suggested it would be unfair as the wealthy would be able to avoid such demands. Another suggested relieving student debt would be a boost for the economy, and yet another pointed out how Warren’s proposal would have such a positive effect on the lives of many graduating students.

A proposal was made, I amended it, and others responded to my amendment. There was no animus, derogatory comments or name-calling in the discussion. Adults discussing (and disagreeing) about an important public issue might seem strange in Donald Trump’s America, but a civil discourse on such public issues is what is needed and has been sorely missing.

This is an academic problem. We need to teach students that name-calling and hostile personal attacks have no place in public or private discourse. Critical thinking must be emphasized where different positions are expressed and respected and, most important, a compromise or a common ground is sought to address problems. The Trump presidency is unfortunately a reflection of an academic culture that has failed to emphasize such reasonable discussions in the classroom.

Larry Hoffner, retired

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