Return to Civility Starts in the Classroom

The David Matthews Center for Civic Life partnered once again with A+ Education Partnership, and hosted a two-day Teachers Institute last week at the American Village in Montevallo.

It was the perfect setting to promote the idea of teaching the next generation of U.S. citizens how to be actively and productively engaged in their communities.

“Learning how to find common-ground solutions is paramount to the prosperity and survival of diverse communities in America,” said Tom Walker, CEO and founder of the American Village, as he welcomed the institute’s participants. “It’s truly how democracy works.”
Through the Civility Project educators are learning how to facilitate discussion forums effectively, a skill the students can one day use to break through the political and ideological divisiveness that currently stagnates progress.

Scarlett Gaddy, one of the teacher organizers of Alabama’s Civility Project is excited about the potential for meaningful dialogue within the classrooms. After participating in a workshop held this past summer, she wrote the following commentary that illustrates the need for the Civility Project in our schools:

We live in cynical times with increasing distrust in government institutions. Citizens and government officials alike are frustrated with our seeming inability to govern well and solve our problems.

Political polarization and the unwillingness to listen to each other seem to be the source of the problem.

Our opportunity, as educators, is to teach students to discuss political issues in a deliberative way.  The goal of the Civility Project is to teach students to listen to each other and work together to find solutions to the problems we face as citizens.

The Civility Project Workshop demonstrates that through deliberative discussion, considering several alternatives, groups of people with diverse opinions will find common ground that allows them to begin to solve problems.

From my experience in helping to moderate local discussions, I have noted the energy that is created when citizens are able to express their concerns and offer solutions in a forum setting, guided by a trained, neutral facilitator.  It’s contagious and creates the desire for civic engagement in the community’s citizens that carries over far beyond the original discussion. 

Click here for a full article on the Teachers Institute two-day workshop.