For Teachers

Pushing Past Personal Perspectives: Pluralism and Discourse in the Classroom

By Ashley Watters December 4, 2019

One African proverb states “a wise man never knows all; only a fool knows everything.” Regardless of how worldly, educated, or well-traveled we are, we can never know everything. But by recognizing our own biases and accepting that we can learn from others, we establish the groundwork for growth and promote the cultivation of independent and analytical thoughts. Opening ourselves to learning from other’s perspectives is the very foundation for developing more comprehensive views of the world around us and is pivotal for embracing the philosophy of pluralism.

Our schools are a product of the modern world. Within the last century, our classrooms have grown from self-contained ecosystems to discussion forums for global ideas; a safe space for the sharing of diverse ideologies. By working to encourage a pluralistic approach and developing skills for inclusive discourse, we can help students succeed in today’s global environment.

The benefits of pluralism and discourse in the classroom

What is pluralism and how does it apply to learning? Pluralism allows all groups to retain elements of their cultural backgrounds and belief systems within a more dominant culture. This philosophy promotes an attitude of acceptance and respect for one another’s beliefs and opinions. To practice pluralism, we need to recognize the value of classroom diversity.

One study from the National Coalition for School Diversity highlights the benefits of a diverse classroom.

“Diverse schools are linked to a host of positive learning outcomes…These include more robust classroom discussions, the promotion of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and higher academic achievement.”

But simply pushing diversity isn’t enough. Educators can help promote the advantages of a diversified student population by encouraging acceptance but, more importantly, through discussion.

The foundation of a truly rich learning environment lies within the principles of pluralism. Before students can develop innovative thinking and engage in critical thinking, they will need to respect that the world is made up of various points of view. Without this critical approach, we can’t truly expand our understanding of the world.

The ability to recognize the differing beliefs of others and develop a healthy discourse around those differences is pivotal for promoting academic growth and analytical thinking.

How to encourage pluralism and discourse in the classroom

Encouraging pluralism and discourse as part of student learning can provide academic and emotional benefits for students. But, as we often see in our polarized political climate, it can be difficult to set standards for appropriate discourse. Try the following strategies to create the right atmosphere.

Engage in pluralism in your own learning

Similar to parenting, you must teach by example. The best way to encourage positive behavior in your students is to set the precedent through your own actions. If you engage in pluralism and discourse in your own learning, you will be able to utilize what you’ve learned in your teaching.

Help your students understand the concept of bias

Bias can be a tough concept to help students overcome, especially if they come from a household where individuals openly communicate their prejudices. But, it is through the process of helping students realize that opinions may be unfairly biased and illustrating that they can learn from one another in an open environment, that they will truly come to appreciate alternative perspectives.

Remember that reaching an agreement isn’t necessary. You are not seeking homogeny in beliefs or opinions, but rather the complete opposite. Illustrate to your students that there is something to be learned from hearing other’s perspectives and engaging in the act of sharing your own thoughts.

Set expectations for language sensitivity and rules for response

Part of the difficulty that arises with an open conversation is word choice. You can’t have an open discourse without free sharing of opinions. But, framing your opinions appropriately is paramount for students to develop analytical thinking. Discuss appropriate terminology and stress the importance of being respectful during a disagreement.

Develop lessons driven by multiple cultures

If you want your students to see the value of a multicultural perspective, help them learn about other cultures. Develop lessons that educate your students about theology, celebrations, traditions, and belief systems of people around the world. Allow them an opportunity to discuss the differences between those cultures and their own.

Practice discourse to teach appropriate standards for disagreements

Teach the art of discourse as you would any other inspired lesson. Use the following basic steps:

  • Thoroughly explain the concept of respectful discourse to your students, clearly outlining the expectations for appropriate behavior and language.
  • Show them examples of exceptional discourse so they can see it in action.
  • Model the expectations through role play.
  • Give students the opportunity to try out discourse on a “safe” topic.
  • Try it out!

Position yourself as a facilitator

Don’t act as an authoritarian. Students need to be supported, but allow their perspectives to drive the conversation. By standing outside of the role of authority figure, you give students the opportunity to develop their own conversational style, allowing them to more fully embrace the spirit and content of the discourse. Set the expectations and see where they take it.

As educators, students look to you to set the precedent for positive learning experiences. If you encourage and practice a pluralistic philosophy, you will help students build the analytical foundation that is necessary to thrive in today’s global world.

Ashley gained a passion for all things writing by spending years teaching a high school English class. She founded Contenthusiast so that she could spend her days hovering over a keyboard. When she isn’t writing, you can find her traveling with family or buried in a book.

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