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Civic and Civil Dialogue

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How can we use the connections provided by digital media to help students learn about civic — and civil — dialogue?

The video above illustrates how two students from very different communities begin talking in a way that typifies much of political expression today. The exchange started as a discussion post on the blog, and continued in the comments that were often contentious. However by the end of a Teachers Teaching Teachers podcast the two girls come to a mutual understanding; the student who originally called the other "ignorant" ultimately compliments that student on her "intelligence."  This case study shows how students (and adults, for that matter) can be taught to communicate effectively even when they disagree.

A little background: The politics of the 2008 presidential campaign and its results have provided ample opportunities to study rhetoric. During the fall of 2008 my students seemed to be more curious about politics than in previous years, but at the same time they were also in need of ways to help them clarify their stances on the issues. And once my students began clarifying their stances and composing their thoughts in the online community, Youth Voices, there were disagreements among students. These disagreements were similar to what was happening in society in general – with one significant difference.  While the political discussions taking place in the mainstream media and online forums were characterized by rancor and partisanship, what was happening among the students in the Youth Voices community was characterized by civic and civil dialogue.  Maybe part of the explanation lies in the curriculum and materials used and the way that conversation is fostered in this online educational community. 

 

Civic and Civil Dialogue

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<p>Chris,</p> <p>Your resource is a fascinating documentation of the challenging discourse among these two very thoughtful students on the issue of race, and I am wondering how the technology element shaped the experience, other than the geographic issue. </p> <p>Did the multimodal nature of the initial writing (at Youth Voices) and then the following exchange (via the webcast) foster something else in the dialogue that might have otherwise gone missing from the views. For example, did the actual "hearing" of&nbsp; each others' voices open up their thinking in a way that might not otherwise have happened if there had only been words on the screen? Were there any follow-up exchanges on the Youth Voices site that built on the positive nature of how the conversation ended which might point towards growth or collaboration or changed thinking?</p> <p>I'm not sure where I am going with my questions here, but it seems worth exploring in a discussion of this importance in which two smart kids were engaged in a very important dialogue.</p> <p>Kevin</p> <p>PS -- Your resources on how to foster the kind of environment that sparks this discussion are invaluable, too. Thank you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>Lots of good questions, Kevin.&nbsp; First of all, the technology facilitated the bridge between two students from very different cultures, and at first the blogging platform seemed to hinder their conversation.&nbsp; It seemed like it wasn't getting anywhere for a while.</p> <p>The podcast changed things in a number of ways.&nbsp; You're right about hearing the voice.&nbsp; I think at first you can hear some underlying antagonism in both of their tones.&nbsp; As each explains their own perspective in more detail, the tone in both voices change in a way that I don't think happens as easily when it's words on a screen. There's something more human in the voice.&nbsp; That's why I think it's not as easy to disrespect someone in person as it is anonymously online.</p> <p>One factor that can't be underestimated is the role of the teacher. Notice how masterfully Paul Allison asks his student to empathize with my student. That was a major turning point. We do that all the time as teachers; we model empathy and guide students to deeper learning by having them imagine the world from other perspectives all the time. But that recording captures it precisely. You can hear the tone in Paul's student change mid-response.</p> <p>And yes, the conversation changed the classroom community and my student personally. Later in the year, I asked her to reflect on the experience. Here's an excerpt from her reflection:</p> <blockquote> <p style="margin-left: 40px;">do online chats breed miscommunication? The answer is yes, yes, yes. This girl completely missed what I was trying to say with my reflection when she read it on the Internet and I didn’t understand what point she was trying to make; a few weeks later, we Skyped and explained to each other both of our point of views. After the podcast, there was no longer miscommunication, but rather, mutual respect for each other’s ideas.</p> <p style="margin-left: 40px;">This taught me a few rules about blogging. First, nothing should be taken too personally. Often times, someone’s opinion sounds more like a personal attack, though their intentions don’t mean for it to sound that way. Second, fighting over the Internet is not something one should do; the point of blogging is to exchange dialogue, not to get in a feud over the Internet. The most important thing you can do is keep an open mind even if someone disagrees with you and reply in a kind but direct way. Third, and maybe most importantly, it’s good remember that blogging takes away the tone of the voice and also a voice’s inflection, so things may get completely misinterpreted which can often lead to aforementioned “blog feuding."</p> </blockquote>