I have asked my students to hold a Civil Conversation with someone over this Thanksgiving holiday. I was going to assign it later, but on my way to school last Tuesday I thought my students need to do it this weekend while families are in town, while they have an opportunity to sit down and have conversation with someone they disagree with, someone they also care about.
We are reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and exploring how his experiences shaped his worldview through each of his transformations. Students have also written about their own worldview, and while they struggled to write about how their experiences have shaped their worldview, they were able to discuss it in general terms.
My hope in working on this project with my students is twofold: 1. that students will create spaces to disagree with others respectfully, 2. that students will understand how a person’s experiences shape their viewpoints on issues.
When I introduced the civil conversations project where students will film a 3-5 minute conversation with someone with whom they disagree, they got really excited. Nervous. Yes. But excited. They even stated, “I love it when we do cool stuff in here…” Students knew when they left the class with whom they would talk, what they might talk about, and had a plan to figure out how to ask questions to bring out the experiences that develop the other person’s point of view.
Their task? Not to “win,” but to come to an understanding. To understand the other person’s point of view and how their experiences support their view.
At one point, one of my students asked, “What if I get grounded?” I told her that she would stop before her discussion moved to an emotional point, and I gave her some tips. We role played in class, and they were off.