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Civic and Civil Dialogue

Civic and Civil Dialogue

Written by Chris Sloan
August 23, 2010

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. 


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