LearnED is a place to learn about learning—because great learning can lead to great opportunities, and great opportunities can lead you and your family wherever you want to go.

How Do You Foster Learning During an Especially Prickly Presidential Election?

Black and white illustration of a general on horseback inpecting his troops

“American history is so interesting because so often disagreement has been a source of positive change.”

A Political Process That Began With a Revolution

A plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River in New York was once considered by General George Washington as “the most strategic position in America.”

The American revolutionaries controlled the area.

The British wanted it.

Continental soldiers went to great lengths to fortify the area and control access to and passage through the adjacent river.

Today, we know the area as West Point. It’s also home to the U.S. Military Academy.

The British never captured the area.

And “West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in America.”

“America was created and, today, is preserved by disagreement,” Randy says. “By engaging in this discourse and listening to other people, we always learn something.”

The Fundamentals of Change

This rich history of political disagreement is partially what attracted Randy W. Roberts to teach at West Point.

He led classes in American history and World War Two, and paid special attention to issues of engagement, controversy, and dispute.

flag
“American history is so interesting because so often disagreement has been a source of positive change,” he says.

“America was created and, today, is preserved by disagreement,” Randy says. “By engaging in this discourse and listening to other people, we always learn something.”

Randy is now a Distinguished Professor of History at Purdue University, still specializing in American history—even American culture.

“I just love talking with people,” he says. “Particularly with students about their differences of opinions.”

Using Change for Good

“The driving force behind American democracy are average people who want to make a change in their community,” Randy says.

“That means civic engagement is not just being interested in or following an election,” he says, “but actually giving back to the community in some way.”

“Parents should explain their political beliefs and rationale,” he says, “but let children form their own opinions.”

Political Discourse, Minus the Anger

As Randy sees the value of useful discourse, it often appears that the conversation emerging from the current U.S. presidential election is anything but useful.

“What we are seeing is a lot of rhetoric and yelling,” he says.

Still, he sees value in people—young and old—getting involved in the political process to be a part of what he calls “the source of positive change.”

Here are some of Randy’s tips for young learners to get engaged in politics … without all the prickly partisan fireworks:

“We hear both candidates talking about ‘serving’ America,” Randy says. “Well, how can a parent or child do something to make America a better place?” He encourages people to find an organization that aligns with their interests.

“Learn something about the political system,” Randy says. “I believe in the value of history, the stories behind our land and our culture and the people we live with.” He encourages young learners to talk with their parents, to seek out oral histories. “And parents should explain their political beliefs and rationale,” he says, “but let children form their own opinions.”

“There’s no right or wrong,” Randy says. “People can differ in opinions and they can both be right.” He says “our American government celebrates the mediation of these differences.”

Seek agreement. “Children have disagreements with their parents all the time,” Randy says. “I want a motorcycle or I deserve a motorcycle.” He says his own mother was concerned about the safety of motorcycles, so he never got one. “In the end, I learned that she’s right,” Randy says. “Disagreements often surface good ideas and help you learn something about yourself and your perspectives.”

“I learn from students all the time,” he says. “They’re often right.”

Lifelong Learning

Randy says he finds his own perspectives challenged in his classrooms even today.

“I might know more about American history than my students,” he says. “But they might have a perspective I’ve never considered.”

“I learn from students all the time,” he says. “They’re often right.”

Pearson is partnering with NBC on the “Goal to Be Greater” project. It’s an effort to encourage civic engagement. The project collecting people’s pledges to make a difference in their communities at the Parent Toolkit website.