This post was written by Jonathan Haidt and project manager Caroline Mehl.
American universities face an enormous challenge: They must prepare their students for life in a politically divided democracy at a time when many people—on campus and off—simply don’t want to read anything by people on the “other side.”
Studies from the Pew Foundation show that individuals’ contempt for the opposing party and its supporters has risen steadily since the 1990s. This rising animosity makes it particularly difficult to expose students to politically diverse materials because passions tend to drive reasoning. Students may simply reject out-of-hand any writings from authors associated with views they oppose.
Yet at the same time, many students, professors, and administrators recognize the danger of political “bubbles”; students at Harvard, Northwestern, and other schools are beginning to request exposure to politically diverse viewpoints. If you are a professor, dean, or college president and you think this is a worthy goal, what would you actually do? Would you require all students to buy and read books from across the political spectrum the summer before they arrive on campus? Would you find a donor to endow a lecture series that could bring politically diverse speakers to campus?
Heterodox Academy announces a simpler, easier, and cheaper alternative: The Viewpoint Diversity Experience. It is a resource created by the members of Heterodox Academy that takes students on a six-step journey, at the end of which they will be better able to live alongside—and learn from—fellow students who do not share their politics.
It’s a very flexible resource that can be completed by individuals before they arrive on campus, presented in an orientation-week workshop, or expanded into a full semester course that students can take during their first year. (It could also be helpful in high schools, companies, religious congregations, and any other organizations that are experiencing sharp political divisions and conflicts.)
Here are the six steps:
1) Understand the value of viewpoint diversity. Begin by learning about the advantages of having your beliefs challenged, and of discovering that you may have been wrong about something.
2) Cultivate humility and open-mindedness. Read short quotations from wise thinkers—East and West—that will help you attain a mindset of humility and openness.
3) Look inside the mind. Learn a little bit of psychology to see the tricks the mind plays on us, making us all prone to be self-righteous, overconfident, and quick to demonize “the other side.”
4) Understand the moral matrix. Learn how each team or tribe builds a comprehensive worldview that can explain everything, while making it harder for its members to think for themselves.
5) Venture beyond your moral matrix. Step outside your own moral matrix by exploring the mindsets, perspectives, and principles of progressives, conservatives, and libertarians.
6) Prepare for political conversations. Practice some skills—such as cognitive reappraisal, acknowledgment, and perspective taking—that will help you to talk, work, and engage productively with people whose politics and values differ from yours.
The site is still under development: we welcome feedback and criticism. We particularly seek out professors, high school teachers, and diversity trainers who will partner with us to develop detailed teaching plans and activities. We will have a larger public launch of the project in August, complete with assessment materials that will allow you to measure whether the curriculum actually increased political knowledge and cross-partisan understanding.
In the meantime, please check it out, at ViewpointDiversity.org.
Addendum: Just as this post was going live, Princeton student Carrie Pritt wrote an open letter to President Eisgruber asking him to change the “Pre-read” assigned to all incoming students so that it exposes them to viewpoint diversity:
By assigning a reading that challenges students to consider views strikingly unlike their own, Princeton could induct students into a culture in which they are expected to engage openly and rigorously with the best arguments for views they reject. We would thereby promote one of our most important ideals – the free debate of diverse perspectives – and transform students’ introduction to scholarly and residential life. In place of awkward silences punctuated by one or two dominant students, the Pre-read might provoke students to challenge one another rigorously on questions of immense significance.
Princeton students and alumni: Please write to President Eisgruber and urge him to adopt the VDE as the Princeton Pre-read. For that matter, we urge students and alumni of every school to forward Ms. Pritt’s letter to their school’s president and deans, and ask them to consider adopting the VDE.