talking about talking about controversial issues, on talk radio

This is the audio of my conversation yesterday with John Gambling, a self-described moderate conservative radio host on WOR in New York City. Gambling is concerned about civic education in schools, by which he primarily means teaching students to understand and appreciate the Constitution. I said that students must also learn to discuss current issues with civility and good information. He seemed to agree on the grounds that (1) he is a civil and substantive person who talks about issues on the air, and (2) political correctness is at fault for blocking good conversations in schools.

I would agree that Gambling is a good participant in public debate, even though he and I would probably vote for different candidates and policies in many cases. One way you can tell is that Gambling invites a wide range of guests onto his show and lets them talk, in marked contrast to people like Rush Limbaugh, who dominate with their own views.

I also share his concern about political correctness, as long as we define that right. According to CIRCLE’s recent survey for the Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge , about one quarter of high school American government teachers believe that parents would object if political issues were discussed in their classes. That resistance has a chilling effect, the teachers told it. It discourages them from talking about current events.

Some of the pushback probably comes from conservative parents who don’t want their kids talking about sex or race, or who worry that teachers (unionized public employees) may expose their children to views they disagree with. But the resistance also comes from the left. I have talked to parents in northeastern urban districts–people I am sure vote liberal–who explicitly resist discussions of controversial current issues in their kids’ schools. I think John Gambling and I agreed that this is wrong.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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