Seeing Things Differently: Viewpoint Diversity in Education

In today’s climate of intense polarization, people on all ends of the political spectrum have strongly advocated for their personal beliefs and many aren’t afraid to be confrontational with friends, family, or strangers on “the other side.” You’ve probably seen these arguments play out over social media – or maybe even at the dinner table. In this age of identity politics, viewpoint diversity has become essential to foster personal intellectual growth, and it’s clear that the earlier this process begins, the better. At Shipley, we celebrate individual thinking and encourage students to form their own points of view. Importantly, we also recognize that other people’s points of view matter, too—and, with that in mind, we celebrate and promote the integration of viewpoint diversity in our classrooms.

Viewpoint Diversity is all about understanding that all people have unique experiences and see things differently. It’s not about empathy. It’s not about tolerance. And it’s certainly not about consensus. (Don’t worry, we know these are all good things! That’s just not what viewpoint diversity is all about.)

Put simply, viewpoint diversity is about understanding and engaging in something I call “positive intellectual inquiry” to develop a better sense of self-awareness and awareness of others. Viewpoint diversity is an academic framework for Positive Education. It’s not about a new way to teach – it’s simply a new way to see the things we teach already.

There are three main objectives of practicing positive intellectual inquiry:

1. To increase awareness of self and of others.
Being more self-aware is a huge part of Positive Education. We can be sure that, in addition to knowing our strengths, we should also be aware of our biases. We can keep in mind that we always have more to learn, and it’s important to stay curious. This helps us better understand ourselves and other people.

2. To cultivate intellectual humility.
Fostering viewpoint diversity helps to promote a culture of intellectual humility. Intellectual humility is a nonpartisan virtue. It is a check against self-righteousness and a balance that allows us to allow for ambiguity.

None of us have a worldview that is complete and we can all learn from other people. It behooves us to open up instead of shutting down and to expand our minds instead of contracting them. As educators, we already know this! So we can build on our self-awareness and be more aware of others simply by admitting that we don’t know everything. We might, in fact, be wrong.

3. To develop actively open-minded thinking skills.
It isn’t comfortable or easy, but as educators, students, and parents, we can and should actively seek out “other-side” arguments. We can challenge ourselves before we challenge others and we can seek to understand. We can ask ourselves if there is something we can agree on to move the discussion forward on a path toward understanding. Embracing open-minded thinking skills helps everyone grow and it’s something that can be integrated into all of our lives right now.

Viewpoint diversity benefits everyone. It gives us room to wonder. It’s what makes life so much less boring — that we can gaze at the same scene and see something totally different. It’s an amazing thing to experience.

As educators and citizens, we need to resist conflating identity with ideology, because this doesn’t help us teach independent thinking. We need to recognize that other people may see and experience the same thing completely differently.

As David McCullough, Jr. said to his students, “Climb the mountain to see the world, not so the world can see you.” That’s a good perspective to have. Remember that your view, magnificent and well-earned as it may be, is just one way of seeing. That’s appreciation of viewpoint diversity and it can positively change the course of education. Because, if other people matter, then their views must matter too.

Learn more about Positive Education at Shipley.

About the Author

Erin McLaughlin

Erin McLaughlin is Shipley's Associate Director of Positive Education. Erin holds a Master’s of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.