The Election

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This is the post I’ve been avoiding. I’ve been avoiding it because, simply, I’m tired of the election, frightened by it, sick of it, overwhelmed by it, have been driven to the brink of paranoia around it.  It’s not that I’m apathetic (far from it); it’s just that I’m done.  In fact, I end up avoiding almost all political news (which drives my hubby crazy since politics is his hobby/passion/addiction, one exacerbated by living in Boston and listening to talk radio).  I won’t use this forum as my soapbox though I will say I envy those of you who get to look at the issues, who have the exorbitant luxury of considering where candidate X stands on jobs or taxes or education or Syria or the national debt or any other issue.  For me, every election is a single-issue election.  As a queer, I need answer only one question: which candidate gives me the best chance of existing for another four years? Despite my personal aversion to any discussion of the looming election, it’s no doubt something that can (maybe should) be taught in the FYC classroom.  For me, though, it’s not about advocating for whichever left-ish or right-ish or middle-ish position you think is “correct” or “just” or “true.”  For me, teaching the election has everything to do with helping students to see that polarization is a central problem -- one that everyone needs to address. It’s a lesson I learned for myself on a recent power walk through my neighborhood in Wilton Manors, which statistically has the second highest per capita gay population in the country or, in other terms, has “1270% more gay men per capita than the national average,” which is to say that I live in one of the gayest places in the country if not on earth.  As I jammed to my Glee playlist (OMG, Blaine’s rendition of “It’s Time”) and upped it to a pace of about 13’31” per mile I passed a house with a sign for a candidate I do not support.  At first, I was repulsed: “Seriously?  Seriously? Do you know where you live?  How dare you?”  But then I caught myself and realized that not only could I tolerate that adversarial difference—I could celebrate it. To translate my epiphany into the classroom, I would turn to “Making Conversation” and “The Primacy of Practice,” Kwame Anthony Appiah’s contributions in Emerging.  If anyone were to ask me which essay was central to Emerging, which reading somehow embodied the spirit of the text, I would probably point to Appiah.  His argument isn’t a kumbaya-like “we should all get along / teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” utopianism (though students are often tempted to read him this way).  Rather, Appiah perfectly understands that “cosmopolitanism” is, as he puts it, “the name not of the solution but of the challenge.”  That is, we no longer have the option of living like separatists; the world is all at once too crowded, too mobile, and too interconnected.  We thus have only two options: find a way to live with those who are different than us or destroy ourselves (I’m paraphrasing with some exaggeration here to make my point, but not by much). That’s what strikes me with this election and that is what I would bring into the classroom: how do we get along, here in this place, now at this time?  The answer isn’t about convincing the other side how wrong they are nor is it about winning or losing, triumphing or decimating.  As he goes on to explore in “The Primacy of Practice,” it’s not about this or that set of values (since people with the same values can fight as easily as those with different values); rather, it’s about getting used to difference.  His essay is a great way to get students thinking about that process and, perhaps, practicing it as well.  Much needed, I’d say. Because, believe me, there’s no better opportunity to get used to difference than this election.  All it takes, really, is a walk through the neighborhood.    
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.