The importance of civil debate


A mere 19.9 percent of eligible voters aged 18 to 29 voted in the 2014 midterm elections, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Given the recent 2018 midterm elections on Nov. 6, I think that it is crucially important to reflect as a school and as a community about what it means to be a member of a democratic society and the obligations and privileges it entails.

As a school, KO should strive to dispel civic apathy and to educate students and get them excited to vote. I would like to applaud the recent efforts of history teacher Katie McCarthy and sophomore Sloan Duvall. At a Tuesday assembly, they presented an engaging powerpoint about past voter turnout statistics as well as some of the major issues facing voters this cycle. Later, they helped students and faculty members alike register to vote. I think these kinds of initiative are incredibly beneficial, and—in a small way—help to maintain a well-informed, engaged voting populace.

Indeed, the Trump presidency and the events of the last two years more broadly have seemingly begun to galvanize increased youth political involvement. Following the horrific school shooting in November 2017 at Stoneman Douglas High School, young people took to the mainstage on issues of gun control. Student activities organized the “March for Our Lives” in March. Another example of increased political involvement is the #MeToo movement. In particular, leading up to these past midterms, I think the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh has drawn many into the political arena.    

After we graduate, KO students are fully-fledged “adults,” and we assume the responsibilities that that brings. Even above voting, I think the utmost civil duty is to be well-informed. In early 2017, The Washington Post added a new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” In democracies, the people hold their government accountable. By electing those who govern, each person at a voting booth on a Tuesday is vested with significant power and significant responsibility. So what does “well-informed” mean? On many current political issues, there is not one “correct” viewpoint. Most have both pros and cons. “Well-informed” means that you take the time to consider that—on a particular issue—the other side might have a legitimate argument.

Often times, we fall prey to insular echo-chambers, reinforced by media, social media, and those around us. We fall prey to confirmation-bias and only choose to consume news or information that reinforces our conception of the world. This is a kind of “Darkness.”
As such, I think that the newly-initiated KO Conservative Club, for example, will help to contribute to the sort of lively dialogue on which democracy subsists. Now, this dialogue can be lively, impassioned even, but if it ever strays from civil and courteous, I think that that it is itself a different kind of “Darkness”: when people only see “Democrat” or “Republican,” “Liberal” or “Conservative,” “Pro-life” or “Pro-choice,” and not fellow human beings.

I sincerely believe and hope that the KO Conservative Club will contribute to an atmosphere of healthy debate at KO; however, I would warn against increased divisiveness. Even if you couldn’t possibly imagine why someone would hold such an outrageous opinion, take a minute to consider, to reflect. Try to look at the issue from a new perspective. Sometimes, this brief exchange of vantage points will not sway your opinion in the slightest. Other times, you might be surprised. If someone approaches you, asking how or why you believe something, try to make it easier for them to step into your shoes, so to speak. Do your best to explain why you hold your views, and by doing so, you might understand where the other person is coming from, or you might not. Either way, so long as you are exchanging ideas in a civil, respectful manner, that is all anyone can hope for.

In order to shape and inform your own opinions, I think it is crucial to consume news from a diversity of sources. It is indisputable that—for various reasons—certain media companies have political leanings and these biases affect the ways in which they report information. For example, Fox News tends to slants right and Vox tends to slant left. This “slant” can take many forms: the actual words and diction with which these companies report on events or whether they report on an issue at all. As a result, it’s important to read news from a variety of sources.  

Hopefully, the political energy brought by the current administration and elections won’t dissipate. As we students grow up, the reigns of power are increasingly going to rest in our hands. With this power to shape the future of policy comes the responsibility to be well-informed and to engage in respective but passionate debate.