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Is a College Course on Civil Discourse Really Needed?

What is More Important: Learning Soft Skills or
Hard Skills?

I recently learned that the School of Public Affairs at the American University in Washington, D.C. is attempting to combat the adverse political dialogue taking place in today’s society by launching a new project on civil discourse. This project, designed by SPA professor Lara Schwartz, is expected to launch in fall 2018.

According to Schwartz, civil discourse is a truthful and productive conversation between individuals. A discourse that doesn’t tell people who they are but is rather a listening-focused discussion. “When we focus on the responsibilities of our speech, we look long and hard at whether our right to infuse something into the discourse outweighs the importance of making it a place where we’re productive.”

I get that teaching civil discourse in college is important given the outbreaks of hate speech, shouting down speakers, and discriminatory actions by certain students on campus. I also get that today we are constantly reminded of the lack of respect for those with an opposing view. The 21st century has been one of incivility, unethical behavior, and disdain for those who don’t believe or believe the way we do.

What upsets me is how strong the need is to teach about civil discourse when other subjects should be taught. I also wonder whether the American University’s course on civil discourse is a knee-jerk reaction to events of the day and what may happen next. How about a course on what’s real news and what’s fake news? In other words, increasingly universities are moving away from hard core academic subjects and replacing them with soft-skill courses. Civil discourse

That said, there is no doubt that an increasing number of employer’s desire prospective employees with soft-skills. Here are five that are identified by Bradford Holmes in a story published by US News.

  1. Collaboration: Learn to work with others in teams because a majority of the workplace experience takes place through a collaborative effort.
  2. Communication and interpersonal skills: A common complaint among employers is that young people do not know how to effectively carry on a conversation and are unable to do things like ask questions, listen actively and maintain eye contact.
  3. Problem-solving: Uncertainty is a way of life in the working world. Unexpected challenges occur all the time. Analytical reasoning and ethical decision-making skills can pave the way when unexpected incidents occur.
  4. Time management: There is an expression in Texas to “walk and chew gum at the same time,” which means to handle two or more tasks at the same time. Learn how to develop the ability to track multiple projects in an organized and efficient manner.
  5. Leadership: While it is important to be able to function in a group, it is also important to demnostrate leadership skills when necessary. Companies wish to hire leaders, not followers.

At the end of the day the need for education in civil discourse is paramount. If we can’t learn how to speak to one another, work and play nice with others, collaborate in groups to get things done, and act ethically then it doesn’t matter whether students get another course in mathematics or science. That is regrettable since our students are lagging in developing those skills compared to other students around the globe.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on April 26, 2018. Visit my website and sign up for my Newsletter.