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Super Civics 2020: How to get along with our political opposites

July 18, 2019

Super Civics 2020: How to get along with our political opposites

Essential question: Why are more Americans struggling to approach opposing political opinions with civility instead of contempt?


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Welcome to “Super Civics 2020,” PBS NewsHour’s new series on civics, designed to help schools engage in thoughtful discussions about democracy, government and Election 2020.

Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions below. You may want to turn on the “CC” (closed-captions) function and read along with the transcript here.


Over the last decade, and particularly since the 2016 election, political tensions and intolerance have increased, making unity and compromise more difficult to achieve. Arthur Brooks, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, analyzes this growing contempt between opposing political groups in his new book, “Love Your Enemies.” “People don’t just disagree with each other. They treat each other utterly dismissively as if somebody were worthless, if they disagreed with the other person,” says Brooks. He identifies the sources of this problem with political leaders, mainstream media, academia, and — most importantly — ourselves. “Love Your Enemies” points to better ways to respond to political disagreements — love, which Brooks argues, is the only way to effectively persuade someone to your side. Though difficult, Brooks says that fixing contempt in ourselves and in others is essential to promoting positive change.

Civics Discussion Questions

1) Essential question: Why are more Americans struggling to approach opposing political opinions with civility instead of contempt? How can civics education help?

2) How can individuals have more productive political discussions even when they disagree with each other?

3) Consider a time when you had a political disagreement. How did you respond? How did you feel afterward? What do you think you could have done differently?

4) How do you think political contempt influenced voters in the 2016 election? How might these ideological divides impact the 2020 election?

5) Media literacy: How is political contempt displayed in the media? Compare news shows such as Fox News and CNN and the PBS NewsHour, or other news sites. How about lesser known news organizations? Do they take a different approach than the more mainstream news outlets? What are each of their biases? Do any of the news shows promote hostility towards the other side? Explain.

6) Media literacy: Take a look at the photo below. What do you see? Next, read the caption. Were your initial thoughts along the same lines as Cook’s? Do you think Cook’s approach encompasses what Brooks discussed in his interview? Explain.

Civics in America. A holds a flag.

Curt Cook, 55, of Denver waves to motorists on I-25 in Castle Rock, Colorado, on October 28, 2018. Cook said of voting: “It’s the most patriotic thing you can do.” Cook said he loves the American flag “I’m out here because this flag is bigger than politics. I do it for the Democrats. I do it for the Republicans. I do it for all our active duty and for all our veterans.” Cook said “I’ve been doing this for about four years and everywhere I go I take my flag and I wave it”. Cook said he finds a scenic place to wave the flag every weekend. He said he also picks up trash. “I love my country.” He said of waving the flag “it’s not political” and that the flag represents Americans “all different races, types, shapes, forms and everything.” (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Civics Extension Activities

PBS NewsHour Extra Lesson plan: Civic engagement and how students can get involved: What rights and abilities do you have as a U.S. citizen when it comes to advocating for issues you believe in? Use this lesson plan below to discuss civic engagement and the role all citizens play in making their voices heard. Ask your students: Based on Brooks’ interview above, what mindset do students think will work best when it comes to civic engagement?

PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.


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