Teachers gather for democracy bootcamp

The next provincial election is only a year away and that means teachers gathered in Toronto on April 20 and 21 for “Democracy Bootcamp,” an inspiring professional development experience offered by Civix. More than 175 educators were offered the opportunity to indulge their love of politics while discussing best practices for delivering and expanding Student Vote, a program designed to help students learn about government, politics and the electoral process. Student Vote co-founder Taylor Gunn said, “As we prepare for next year’s elections, we hope this Bootcamp will improve your own interest in our politics and democracy, and offer ideas of how to improve the Student Vote program at your school. It’s our privilege to work with you to build students into citizens.”

Presentations on Indigenous governance perspectives and panel discussions with journalists, academics and party pundits rounded out the events.

Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, Chris Cochrane, shared Political Polarization and the Media, explaining that while the media does not often change our political opinions, it does shape the agenda (what is reported) and the framing of issues. He closed with, “The best defence against media manipulation is sophistication.”

Dr. Michael Feinberg, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, provided valuable insight into why political conversations go wrong. Politics are rooted in our moral values, meaning we tend to have a blind spot about another’s. This can cause an empathy gap. These gaps lead to communication breakdown and do not help “convince” anyone about political choices.

He explained there are five moral foundations and of these, Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity are favoured by liberal voters. Whereas Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect and Purity/Sanctity are more likely to be endorsed by conservative voters. When trying to persuade, we tend to focus on our own values. For example—using the Fairness/Reciprocity value for same sex marriage, one would ask “Don’t you think everyone should be treated equally?” But to appeal to someone who is more conservative, it would be more effective to appeal to that voter’s Ingroup/Loyalty moral foundation: “Same sex couples buy homes and pay taxes just like the rest of us.”

Political conversations can be productive when we see another moral perspective and speak to our positions using those values. Democracy Bootcamp was livestreamed and can be found at www.civix.ca.

Wise words for us to remember as we get involved in political campaigning in the upcoming year!

/Diane Ballantyne, M.Ed (District 18, Upper Grand) teaches at Centre Wellington District High School in Fergus and is a member of the Provincial Communications and Political Action Committee.

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