Republicans and Democrats are not just tuning each other out. Instead, thanks to an education system and an increasing distrust of news that creates opposing realities, discussing politics across the aisle has become nearly impossible.
A recent study conducted by Pew Research Center found that “Republicans and Democrats place their trust in two nearly inverse news media environments.” The study was separated by party preference and by independents who identified that they leaned one way or another.
From the 30 news sources in the study, Republicans trusted seven. Democrats trusted 22. Over the years, the Pew Research Center found that “Republicans have grown increasingly alienated from most of the more established sources,” and Democrats’ trust in the main outlets has not varied much at all.
Imagine two people trying to discuss a historical event about which they read different books. One author might have left out some parts of the story, or put the events in a different order. Maybe the books are written from the perspectives of two opposing figures.
In short, this conversation would not be very productive. This scenario is not unlike everyday conversations about politics that often end up not happening, because as soon as two people know they read different books, the subject is off the table.
This disconnect impedes what used to be a valued aspect of American life—the ability to speak up about what you care about. And of course, the disconnect between Republicans and Democrats is just one of the many dividing lines that have cut through conversation.
Within the Democratic party, race defines a subtler line that many do not acknowledge. The Atlantic’s Steve Heap discussed the fact that white people spent time engaging in politics by reading and talking, while black and Latino people were twice as likely to actively engage by volunteering in their communities. These two groups within one party have entirely different ideas of what political engagement means.
People of different education levels are also reading different news. “News that college-educated people consume is unlikely to help them actively participate in politics, because … they are more likely than non-college-educated Americans to rely on national rather than local sources of news,” Heap said.
It is easy to see why Americans have difficulty communicating with others as adults when looking at the American education system.
Just last year, Arizona legislators introduced a bill that would “prevent teachers from bringing anything political into the classroom,” according to Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post. The bill targeted topics that were deemed “controversial,” without any definition of what that would include.
Similar legislation was introduced in Maine by Rep. Larry Lockman, who said “Maine has a real problem with teachers pushing partisan politics in the classroom … it needs to stop.”
Textbooks are commonly altered to reflect what politics states want students know, and what aspects of history they want to omit for partisan reasons. “Classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters,” Dana Goldstein of The New York Times said.
Goldstein’s article examines two editions of the exact same history textbook. The California version mentions that “rulings on the Second Amendment have allowed for some gun regulations.” The Texas version leaves that section blank.
“I don’t view it as the discussion of these topics. I view it as the discussion of children’s lives,” Delpit said.
“If we can’t connect to it in some way, children, like adults, just refuse to engage,” she said.
Since America’s education systems raise children who are taught to avoid talking politics, it makes sense that adults avoid those conversations at all costs. People keep their eyes on their own page, read news sources that stick to topics they are comfortable with and distance themselves from controversy.
The political connections that are not happening are slowing political progress. Social change can happen on the ground level through everyday conversations.
When examining how the American perspective on the LGBTQ+ community changed so rapidly over a decade, The Post’s Samantha Schmidt discussed the importance of connections.
“The more connections Americans made with gay or lesbian people, the more positive their attitudes toward them became — a trend social scientists call “the contact hypothesis,” Schmidt said.
Jennifer Rich, a director of research and education and an assistant teacher, spoke on her experience with discussing political issues that affect students’ lives in an interview with The Post.
Rich said students would tell her, “I had no idea we were allowed to talk about things like this, and my mind is spinning with what I thought I knew and ways I want to change.”
How does this country reintroduce political conversations into everyday life? By teaching students the importance of interacting with others in schools.
Debra Satz, a philosopher from Stanford University and author, explained the importance of teaching coexistence in her essay “Equality, Adequacy, and Educational Policy.”
“If our K–2 educational goals are, at least in large part, based on the requirements of equal citizenship, then schools have an important role to play in encouraging intergroup knowledge, respect, and understanding,” Satz said.
Whether through the contact hypothesis, learning how to read news or simply normalizing conversations about politics in classrooms, education shapes the citizens who vote and actively engage with their community.