There is a high school in Columbus, Ohio that offers a political radicalism class where actual radicals present to the students. They have been providing this class to the students since 1975.
“Poli-rad students study each speaker ahead of time, gathering background and preparing questions,” AP reported about the class. “Afterward, teachers help them think critically about how factors such as deceptive language or personal charisma were used.
“The teachers attribute the course’s success to a few key ground rules: Presenters must come from across the political spectrum, they can’t be censored, students must remain respectful and instructors can’t share their personal political beliefs.”
The idea is that by exposing students to political landmines they will most likely encounter in their lives, they will be equipped to react rationally to them.
If this class were to be proposed today — with the media exposure that we have had in regards to extremism and terrorism — it would be extremely difficult to develop it without pushback from parents and activist organizations.
Even when the course was developed in the ‘90s, Ku Klux Klansmen arriving at the school in full robe and pointed hats was too much for the community. Since then, the teachers agreed to a compromise: They would not invite the Klan but would be free to invite all other radicals.
I have personally experienced this fear in presenting material outlining and explaining what violent extremism is and the push and pull factors that may be a deciding factor for someone to join one of these groups.
In actuality, it is more logical that exposure to different types of radical thoughts and ideologies in a safe and controlled environment can prove to be a strong preventative measure. By allowing students and young people to hear opinions and belief systems from all points of view, including radical ones that can clearly involve extremely skewed idea, it can help open their minds and develop cognitive thinking.
Contrary to popular belief, it is my opinion that exposing youth to knowledge of these topics is not what opens the door for them to follow any one of these ideologies. In fact, it teaches them to research all information rather than accept one-sided views that may be fed to them on the internet or in the community.
Youth represents the prime time for curiosity and learning. If we don’t offer young people information in a way they can safely ask questions, have guidance to find the truth and give them a follow-up process, they will seek out answers on their own without direction, potentially coming to dangerous conclusions.
In the search for knowledge, it is common to come across strong views and incorrect facts. By providing a supervised environment for young people to discuss the issues of today openly, our youth are less likely to find inspiration from one specific website or individual, but rather will be intellectually primed to seek out a variety of sources.
Knowledge and education are strong tools in building resilience in our youth to protect them from being drawn to extremism. By working together to bring in more preventative programs like this into our schools, we stand a much better chance of directing our youth in a positive direction rather than towards a path of destruction and violence.
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