The bustle of high school in the corridors of Worthington Kilbourne High School is typical.
Laughter, footsteps, doors opening and of course the class bell. The chiming obviously starts and ends all the classes. On the second floor, Mr. Dave Strausbaugh gives no exams for a seniors-only class.
The title of the class is American Political Thought and Radicalism. The class started more than 40 years ago during the 1970s.
The idea is to expose students to various thoughts that differed from the mainstream.
Strausbaugh explained what radical means.
“Somebody who wants drastic change and is willing to go to extreme lengths,” said Strausbaugh. “It can include violence, but not necessarily.”
His class and the one at Thomas Worthington focuses on these questions:
Why do people become part of these movements?
What is the appeal?
Why do they choose the tactics that they do?
What are the goals that they hope to achieve?
On Thursday, the Worthington Kilbourne class focused on groups that call Adolph Hitler “immortal” and align their loyalties to being white.
The students watched seven minutes of an Art & Entertainment special from the 1990’s about Bill Riccio.
Senior Lexi Bair explained that the class has opened her eyes beyond the suburb where she lives.
“I would say it’s hard because especially with the unit that we’re with right now, hearing things that people believe and like understanding that there are actually people out there that actually think that way,” said Bair. “It’s like really eye-opening, though, too, because I feel like in Worthington there is this Worthington bubble.”
What students seem to be drawn to most is the speakers that visit the class.
They find they have to examine their own beliefs and values.
“We had a few speakers that came in and were like,’Why are you liberal? Do you even know what that means,’” recalled Alex Ehlers. “So, I sit there and am like ‘do I know what that means?’ It‘s a good self-reflective experience.”
Classmate Bella said its enriching.
“It educates you in civics by opening up discussions about things that make you feel uncomfortable in a safe setting where it is controlled,” said Bella Mitchell.
The discussions are guided by the students, but Strausbaugh keeps the students on task with the objective, civility.
“They’re going to hear people with strong opinions and have people who will debate,” said Strausbaugh. “There’s an element of risk involved. We feel that we’re able to engage the kids and do it in a way that’s productive.”