The Politics and Society Segment – Discourse, not Discord

The ability to dispassionately, yet earnestly, exchange opposing political viewpoints is scarce, even discouraged in some modern arenas. St. John’s College aims to be a place that practices thoughtful and civil conversation about difficult topics, politics included. Given the state, or lack, of political discourse available, some students are bound to hesitate or have reservations about the Politics and Society segment in the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts program at the Graduate Institute. Current students have shared similar concerns. Even some faculty members harbored concern. Fortunately, they found the classes to be refreshing and inspiring, instead.

As we approached the classes that would put American politics and culture under the microscope, I did have some misgivings. It can be easy to discuss democracy or iniquity in the context of another time and place—what would happen when discussed these things in the context of our own country? I think there were bumps on the road, but by and large the students agreed that we needed to have conversations “sine ira et studio”, that is, without anger or partisanship. After all, the reason we come to the College is to gain perspective, not to narrow our horizon further.

– Seth Appelbaum, faculty member

I truly appreciated the cooperative and collaborative ways we explored time-honored questions dealing with what makes a good human being, and what is the individual’s role in our society. Our groups often debated opinions, yet we always came back to textual references from our readings to ground us in the spirit of the authors we were exploring. We maintained constructive discussions, and our Tutors exercised amazing adeptness with facilitating effective inquiries to keep us focused, while allowing us the freedom to express opinions. St John’s classrooms provide a forum much unlike our new social discourse norms proliferated by social media. It was refreshing to be part of the St. John’s community during this divisive time in our country.

– Connie Martin, current grad student

I was really looking forward to reading the foundational texts of Western government, but I was a bit concerned about how the discussions would go.  I used to enjoy watching news programs with political commentary, but I gave it up in disgust a few years ago because I just couldn’t stand the one-sidedness and vitriol on the part of the vast majority of those being interviewed on both sides of the political spectrum.  It seemed to me that any discussion of politics had devolved into tribalism and emotional rhetoric.  So, I had some trepidation going into this segment.

I enjoyed the classes so much!  The readings were rich, and the discussions among students and the tutor were always interesting, often examining ideas in the text of which I hadn’t noticed the significance.  I found myself thinking about these ideas in a completely new light.  There were many times when I had to just stop everything and focus only on the rationale of the discussion.  All participants were respectful of one another and the variety of perspectives.

-Andrea Aiello, current grad student

To my mind, the Politics and Society segment gives us the space to think deeply and openly about politics and ethics. It’s a shared journey, grounded in the texts and enlivened by our lived experiences, and it allows us to to think more broadly and critically about what the proper role is of political power, of citizenship, and of the state and also how we should treat each other as individuals and members of a society.  It doesn’t reduce to our contemporary (and too often polarized) experience but instead allows us to think more thoughtfully about the world we live in.  

– Ned Walpin, faculty member

These are just a few of the many positive responses we hear regarding the student experience in the Politics and Society segment. Join us and help to recapture the art of true political discourse!