What is the real meaning behind education? The changes and chaos in the educational landscape created by the coronavirus pandemic have left me and my peers considering this question more deeply as we navigate our next steps.

Would I be better served by enrolling or taking off a semester that’s defined by Zoom fatigue and classroom discourse dominated by lagging Wi-Fi and unmuting myself before each rebuttal?

From poets to presidents, President Joe Biden’s inauguration made clear that intellectual empathy is the crying need of our times. Education, at its core, teaches intellectual empathy, something a politically polarized America has never needed more urgently. The horrifying insurrection at Capitol Hill made heartbreakingly clear just how important engaging in discourse with those we disagree with is before resorting to violence. That’s why education matters: It teaches how to disagree constructively through intellectual empathy.

Education has always mattered to me on both a personal and political level, but I hadn’t really thought about why education matters until the pandemic and recent political sphere dismantled seemingly secure institutions. I come from a family of Chinese and Mexican immigrants who were profoundly empowered by their education. Given education’s importance in my family’s narratives, I’m extremely passionate about education policy. I’ve cherished involvement in initiatives, whether locally interning in under-resourced schools or working as an advising fellow for the CollegePoint nonprofit Matriculate, allowing me to start tackling education inequity.

Arguments are good, but educational institutions need to teach students from early on how to interact with arguments they disagree with or find offensive. That’s where ThinkerAnalytix comes in — an education nonprofit partnered with Harvard’s Department of Philosophy that uses mastery-based learning to teach critical thinking more effectively and equitably.

In the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to work on ThinkerAnalytix’s online critical thinking course, incorporating everything from tweets to snippets of Shakespeare as arguments for students to analyze. Through this course, accessible online in a format students have become increasingly adept at through virtual learning, I’ve learned to interpret others’ statements charitably and investigate the data backing my own beliefs.

ThinkerAnalytix’s course teaches “argument mapping” — dissecting arguments into main claims, premises and objections to those claims. Through argument mapping, students learn how to isolate the single point they disagree with, enabling them to maintain the opposing side’s humanity in heated debates.

If there’s anything we need more of in this world, especially after 2020, it’s pausing to think through arguments empathetically. Arguments are good, but they’re also everywhere. Whether you’re dissecting a primary source in history class or mindlessly scrolling through Tiktok, you’re interacting with a source that necessitates critical analysis to unravel the subjectivities and agendas inscribed. In order to develop your own ideas, you need to be able to evaluate other people’s arguments, something made increasingly difficult by the influx of arguments in today’s seemingly infinite media.

I believe in the power of intellectual empathy — it’s our way forward. But we need to start this difficult work now, to raise a generation more aware, excited and empathetic to tackle all the arguments — whether political or personal — surely arising in the years to come.

Emily Bleiberg is a junior at Williams College

majoring in history and English.