Teaching the Election: Appiah

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In this series of posts (see also Teaching the Election: Intro) I’m talking about how to teach the 2016 presidential election without promoting a single political point of view or allowing students to get stubbornly stuck in us vs. them political positions. One great reading to help with that is Appiah.

Time and again I’ve advocated Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Making Conversation” and “The Primacy of Practice.” And with good reason. Appiah’s ideas are fairly central to the thinking behind Emerging. They are also incredibly flexible, able to be applied to any number of situations, including the upcoming presidential election.

Two of Appiah’s ideas are extremely useful here. The first is cosmopolitanism. Appiah explains in “Making Conversation” that we just don’t have the luxury any more of pretending other kinds of people don’t exist. The world is too crowded and too interconnected. Instead, the central challenge is how to get along. The way I see it, that’s the challenge in this deeply divisive election as well. When it’s all said and done, no matter who wins, we’ll still need to find a way to get along with each other. Weekly I see friends on Facebook announcing that they are defriending this or that or those or these friends because of their political postings. But defriending someone changes nothing. Those people still exist in the world if not in their lives and, ultimately, we will need to find a way to get along with them.

The second idea from Appiah that I think is useful in this context is his analysis of the primacy of practice. Appiah points out that we can agree to take certain actions even if our reasons behind those actions, even if our values, differ. That gives me some hope for us in the post-election world. I don’t have to agree with the values of those who don’t hold my political leanings. It’s still possible to agree on actions.

Appiah is a great reading to get students thinking about the polarization of politics and how to move past that in the aftermath of the election. Really, I think that’s the more crucial question here—not who will win but what we will do when that candidate does win.

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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.