Column: Social and political divisions in online education


I like yoga and Birkenstocks. I order overpriced lattes at my favorite local cafe on the weekends – with oat milk, of course, because I’m a vegan. I have strong opinions on fine art and an intense commitment to my houseplants. I talk a lot about astrology, and honestly, I believe in it a bit.

Politicians do not mention astrology or Birkenstocks in their policy proposals, and campaign events of any kind do not include yoga breaks.

Nonetheless, I’m sure you have a pretty good idea of ​​which political party I identify with after reading this description. You also probably have an idea of ​​whether or not you think we would get along.

Unlike the 1960s, when the political landscape focused on corporate regulation and taxation, our political identifications have today become more and more synonymous with our worldview. Although party members do not fit a single mold, personal characteristics are more indicative of a person’s political attitudes today than they were years ago.

Now political parties match our lifestyle preferences and, more importantly, our moral understanding. Now politics is personal.

As a freshman in college, I had no choice but to meet people whose worldview was totally different from mine. I was exposed to people who lived in different states and countries, and developed a new respect for perspectives that I didn’t even know existed.

I did not look for these people. I did not insist on broadening my perspective. The foundational community structure of the college has done the work for me, and I am enjoying it every day.

My laptop cannot reproduce this feeling.

As a result of the pandemic, we are facing an alarming degree of exposure to new perspectives. Students are faced with this during a training period where we should expand our outlook, not reduce it.

Weekly Zoom Meetings, Frequent FaceTimes, and Social Distancing Picnics all work well enough to keep our closest relationships. But you can’t send a Zoom link to your favorite barista. You wouldn’t want to FaceTime the classmate who always laughed at your classroom jokes. How about the kind of friend you seem to always pass on campus? The student you see frequently in your favorite corner of the library?

Even though we don’t form a strong bond with these people, seeing them constantly in person creates a bond of familiarity and community that cannot be maintained online.

Online learning translates into less discussion among students and, consequently, fewer friendships in the classroom. Friendships and acquaintances made through Zoom and GroupMe are more difficult and less personal. Therefore, we are less likely to reach out to our classmates and we are more selective when reaching out. This selectivity inevitably leads to gravity towards people who seem to think, look like or act like you. And they probably vote like you too.

It makes sense to form friendships with people who are like you. It makes sense, given our current political climate, that the majority of our friends share our political beliefs. But being surrounded only by our “groups” leads to the antagonization of those who are not part of them.

We all have distinct understandings of the world, and our understandings may not be inherently compatible. But naughty half of our country – or reducing them to caricatures – is not a solution to our problems.

So I won’t rule out the student who mentioned his love of country music or his van, assuming we’re fundamentally doomed to never agree on anything more important.

Maybe I’ll send them a GroupMe message instead, asking which artist they recommend I check out first.

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