It was a little more than a year and a half ago that I realized that I wanted to explore what it means to be engaged in civil discourse. Not casually, but to make it a thing I came back to on a very regular basis. We were changing administrations, there was an election lingering in folks throats and hearts, and there was change in the air. And I saw plenty of people everywhere, myself included, struggling with how to express opinions and frustrations in ways that were productive and change-making, rather than self-satisfying and loud.
Because there was, and still is, an awful lot of yelling and screaming and shaking fists going on in American discourse, both online and off. And I realized that I know lots of smart people who know plenty about what good and engaged civil discourse can and should look like, both inside and outside classrooms, and on and off of the Internet. I wanted to explore what it means to have a voice and to use it, well, usefully, to move things in a better direction. And to understand when my idea of “better” was and is actually part of the problem.
When I wonder about something, I like to make things around that wondering. It’s just how I learn. Sometimes I write, sometimes I talk, sometimes I record things.
So A More Civil Discourse was born.
We had some false starts, and some of the folks I wanted to engage with were, and still are, entirely too busy. It took a little while to get the hang of making the time to be in study and conversation. But, as the fifth1 episode is now in the can, and Antero and I are starting to find a way forward, I’m beginning to feel like it’s a thing that I can do and sustain and have found the time for.
And, with this week’s episode, I feel like we’re starting to get the hang of this thing. Better, I’m starting to be able to frame the conversation I want to have and explore. As I said in our conversation with Joe, our guest yesterday, I’m really interested in untangling and exploring the responsibilities of citizenship and discourse alongside the expectations we have and want to get out of the thing. Responsibilities versus entitlements. What we should and can do versus what we want to do.
I’m not at all interested in what it means to have a set of documents2, but more in what it means to decide to be civil or a citizen within or for or towards a group or set of ideas, what it means to declare that one is engaging in the responsibilities of carrying forward what it means to advocate and be civil and critical in a time when so much of the public discourse in politics and classrooms is shouting, not listening, and proclaiming, not seeking.
I want to wander in between being nice and being kind, and work through how the second matters more than the first. I’m curious in seeking ways to perpetuate the idea that the best friends are critical friends, and that we can all be good stewards of the institutions and organizations we believe in while challenging their ideas and experiences and intentions along the way.
And we’ll be approaching the topic sideways, at least sometimes. In part because of who we are and in another part because it’s often easier to see what’s elusive when you look with your peripheral vision rather than straight on at it3.
As the series progresses, I hope to engage many of my teachers and friends4 in the conversations.
If you’re someone who’s engaged in helping your students, family and friends to learn how to better engage in civil discourse in ways that open up the world, rather than lock it down, then I invite you into the conversation. In a few ways.
First, perhaps you’d care to subscribe and play along with us as we explore.
Second, if you have a topic you want to explore, or a conversation you hope we’ll have, either with you or someone else, I’d invite you to let me know. You can share quick ideas in the comments to this post, should you wish to do so publicly. Or, if you want to make a suggestion in private, you can do so via the contact form on the show’s website. I don’t profess to even know what the bounds of the conversation can be, much less to have expertise in the answers to the questions I’m wondering about.
Third, you can use the hashtag #amorecivildiscourse to push the conversation, or you can follow along as other people push. We’re @morecivil on Twitter, as of earlier today. So say hi there, too.
I don’t know that I know the right way to engage productively, civilly, kindly and calmly in the mess of right now, but I know people who do, and I certainly know how to ask questions, and, I hope, I’m getting better at listening to other people right now who have thoughts and ideas and questions to share. And I know in so many ways that there’s no one coming to fix the problems of civil discourse at the moment. We’re enough, but we’ve got to get to work.
Join us, won’t you?
- Or sixth, depending on how you count. [↩]
- I’ll never ask anyone to produce any, either. [↩]
- And sometimes, it’s just plain fun, as our episode on a 1980’s movie about robot grandmothers as a metaphor for current issues in home assistants and robots should suggest. [↩]
- What a wonderful world I live in where the Venn diagram of both groups has such an ample overlap. I am a lucky person, indeed. [↩]