Sunday, April 11, 2010

Could schools cure our uncivil discourse?

Wow, sounds like Jay's advocating for schools to encourage teachers to foster a critical consciousness in students. I'm not sure about the comment about needing to add more time to the school day to achieve this as the solution. Maybe we need to re-think what a majority of time is committed to -- getting students to do well on our reductive assessments, maybe?

To achieve what Jay is proposing (and I would agree should be happening in education) we need to rethink our focus on narrow "outcomes" and our reliance on them to demonstrate "success."

We also need to think about the capacity of teachers to foster the kinds of "meeting of the minds" discussions Jay mentions. Perhaps we should consider that some of our teachers went through the same routine schooling process that we're critiquing, earned a degree to teach (or not), and are now instructing based on their capacity and the rigid rules created by our faulty policies.

More to this discussion than Jay's blog had space to expand upon.


By Jay Mathews | March 23, 2010

After apparently spending the weekend, as I did, watching the Congressional debate over health care, former diplomat and teacher Dave Rabadan of Annandale asked me this good question:

"What has happened to the teaching of critical skills, decision-making
based on weighing alternative policies or courses of action, and
respect for those who hold differing opinions on local and national
issues? And what about common sense in lieu of a remora-like
clinging to philosophies or tactics that specialize in denigrating,
if not demonizing opponents? How can we better teach and practice
civility in public discourse? Where do we draw the line on tactics
that thrive on ad hominem attacks, ridicule of opponents, and (most
worrisome) shouting down the opposition so that the other side is
unable to present its positions?"

My view is that the politicians who hurl insults and distortions at each other know how to argue in a more civilized and accurate way, but have learned their point of view gets little attention unless they heat it up. But maybe i am wrong.

Our high schools don't spend nearly as much time as they should having students practice public presentations, and intelligent debates. Some styles of the formal debates in which high school teams compete seem to respect rules of civil discourse, but others, at least ones I have seen, do not, or are just weird, like the rapid-speak style, whatever they call it.

If we had a bit more time in the school day, a favorite topic of mine, teachers would be encouraged to let students research issues, take different sides, and discuss them in a civil way. Good teachers could demonstrate the power of conceding points to your opponent. They might even experiment with forming a truly bipartisan mini-congress and try to work out a health care plan, or reduced budget, or modified Bowl Championship Series, that takes good ideas from all sides.

The more students experience the sense of accomplishment from a meeting of minds, perhaps the less respect they will have for office holders who listen to their media experts telling them you have to hit the enemy hard or lose the game.

As Rabadan said in a final remark: "All the math and science capacity and expertise will pale in importance if we lose the basic respect we must extend in debate -
even to those with whom we profoundly disagree."

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