Welcome to this month’s edition of news and updates from Ravi Unites! In this edition:
- Civil Discourse: 3 Ways to Help Students Learn to Engage with Civility
- Ravi Unites Schools Update
- Upcoming Events for Ravi
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Civil Discourse: 3 Ways to Help Students Learn to Engage with Civility
Politics on social media... the two go together like fire and lighter fluid!
Simply post something about politics on Facebook and watch how fast the conversation becomes negative and polarizing. I've been intentionally sharing provocative reflections recently on my Facebook Page, Ravi Unites, to promote civil discourse and have found that the discussion heats up quickly. There is a lack of effort or ability to seek productive dialogue which results in fruitless conversation that draws boundaries instead of building bridges. What are we teaching the next generation of young leaders? Moreover, in a society where admitting fault has become akin to being unpatriotic, how do we progress as a nation and encourage our children to grow into lifelong learners if the art of being wrong and learning from it is no longer available as the pathway to success?
I believe strongly that the skill of civil discourse is a critical learning objective that needs to be addressed more intentionally in our educational systems. Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one that is troubled by this trend. Chris Lundberg, an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, shares the same concerns and notes how we have become a society of incivility. He explains that politeness is a prerequisite for good public discourse, and like I, feels that avoiding the truth in the name of preserving a good discussion does not serve society well. The issue is that we have a lack of training and healthy modeling of productive sharing of ideas and opinions. Therefore we must develop the skills for civil discourse that can enable a healthy exchange of ideas rather than devolving into negativity and outlandish attacks.
How Do We Regain Civility?
The original concept of societal civilus (or a civilized society) meant that members of the society were supposed to comport themselves in a way that seeks well for the society. We must help future leaders understand and learn how to engage in civil discourse from a young age by preparing them to confront and civilly debate even the most charged topics. And, no, civil doesn’t mean hiding the truth.
While we all have a duty to practice good manners when addressing other people, being civil also comes with the responsibility to do what’s right for society – tell the truth. This is what we need to instill in these leaders of tomorrow.
The following are three practical ways to introduce students to civil discourse in the classroom:
1. Have Students Watch Public Debates
Like any other skill, the ability to engage in civil discourse is learned one step at a time. So, in order to take the first step, I recommend educators start with this simple activity; something that doesn’t feel personally threatening to individual participants.
Watching (rather than participating in) a debate is an excellent learning opportunity. Let students watch other people debate contentious topics and then discuss the discourse that took (or didn’t take) place. What was helpful? What was not? What can they learn from what they have observed? There are several places to find excellent material for this kind of teaching: Oxford Union, National Debate and Speech Association, and Intelligence Squared.
2. Introduce Private, Silent Journaling
After watching several debates, move to the next step – silent, reflective journaling. This is where students are presented with a debatable statement and asked to; Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree with it, privately; no one has to know their stance.
This strategy works very well because students can confidently express their views without fear of confrontation from others who may not share the same viewpoint. More important, it gets them into the practice of taking positions on difficult topics. With time, you can ask them to defend their choices by giving reasons for their answers. This further instills discipline as it cultivates the culture of taking a position for a reason rather than just following the herd.
3. Introduce class debates
This is where art of civil discourse flourishes. Begin with relatively easy, non-threatening topics and slowly move to more highly charged topics as the students become used to publicly expressing and defending a viewpoint (and not necessarily their own). Lay out your ground rules and share tips for positive and civil discussion. The key is to assign each student a viewpoint to defend. This way they are challenged to think critically and respond respectfully, whether or not they agree with the position or not, and always give participants enough time to research the topic and come up with points.
It’s Not Too Late
Current trends on social media are not overly positive, but it’s not too late to salvage the future and make sure that poor discussion habits do not dominate social and professional situations. Introducing these three strategies in the classroom can help bring back some sanity by weaving critical civil discourse skills into tomorrow’s leaders.
Ravi Unites Schools Update: Practicing Civil Discourse Together
If you live in the United States, I hope you will agree that it is time to practice civil discourse and to guide our students to do the same. This spring, I am hosting free real-time audio-video interactions between students within the country. I strongly encourage you to make every effort to participate when you receive an email inviting you to select a date and time for an interaction. If these dates do not work for you, please write firstname.lastname@example.org to be placed on the waiting list.
Participating now will not interfere with future opportunities and you will still be notified as new international dates and times emerge. I continue to work to build a feasible schedule with schools registered from China, Chile, India, Japan, Canada and New Zealand. The vast differences in time zone, cultural norms, video communications systems, school day and time availabilities continue to inspire and challenge me.
March 18th, 2019
Northwest Indian Youth Summit, Fort Hall, ID
I am very excited to work with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe and deliver the keynote to their youth community on developing a growth mindset. Native American Indians are an essential and marginalized segment of the US population, and I look forward to learning more about how to help them overcome the cultural biases and obstacles they face, preserve and promote their culture, and help others learn, respect and appreciate their values, traditions, art forms and more..
April 5th, 2019
Mississippi Association of School Administrators Conference, Biloxi MS
Mississippi’s economy is ranked 49th in the U.S. To help educators and administrators elevate the national standard of education and work toward equity in education, it is as important for me to learn as much from those in Mississippi as I hope they will learn from me. For this reason, I will arrive a day early to listen as state and local leadership address the challenges facing education in their state. This will help inform my closing keynote on April 5, 2019.