Schools as Incubators of Civility: Beyond Silencing, Ignoring, and Demonizing the Other

The current climate of public and political discourse in the United States continues to trouble me, and I have to wonder what we can do in education to help. Yet, if we are going to do something about a problem, it is necessary to define or at least describe the problem. In this instance, there is more than one issue, but I’m beginning to focus on the nature of discourse and how we treat, think about, and interact with people who have significantly different beliefs and values from our own. My concern is that we are using media, policies, and laws with the goal of power more than truth, understanding, or even justice. I see four especially strong signs that this is indeed the case.

Silence the Other

One sign is that there is a seemingly growing effort to silence those who disagree with us. We want to use laws or whatever other means to make sure that the other person does not even get a chance to speak or respond. There is limited interest in genuine understanding or discourse. We want the other to “shut up and sit down.” We pursue this tactic even if it eats away at the constitutional rights of others, not considering the larger implications. Our focus is to win in the moment.

Ignore the Other

We do whatever we can to ignore the other because we don’t want the media or any significant group of people to hear from the other. Perhaps there is fear that the other will convince people, and since the goal is to “win”, there is sometimes the goal of ignoring toward that end. In fact, some will argue that the other is not even worthy of acknowledgement. “Don’t entertain such stupidity with your attention,” some might argue.

Demonize the Other

Perhaps even more troubling is the growing trend to demonize the other (not even just the position held by the other). By doing this, we also dehumanize the person. We frame the person and the person’s position as intolerant, bigoted, extremist, or whatever other language diminishes the sense that this person should be respected, granted the rights described in the constitution, or even granted treatment of basic human dignity.  We define the other person as a “killer” or “defender of killers.” We do whatever we can to pair the person with the most evil characters that we can think of in past or recent history.

Personal Attacks

This is the norm for political discourse in much of social media today. Issues are not debated as much as people are demeaned, minimized, demonized, and mocked. Sarcasm trumps logical discourse. One liners are sought more than insight. Black and white positions drive people to draw a clear line in the sand, and if you are not on my side of the line, you are an evil person. Sometimes it is direct, but other times it is done subtly. We write or say it with a cool tone so as it make it sound like we are being more objective. I see this in countless media headlines when clearly biased reporters are framing the headlines to represent their ideology and values more than to objectively report on the news.

How Can Schools Help?

Of course, not everyone does these all the time. We each have our good and not so good moments. Yet, the more that these four and related patterns of discourse dominate, the more civility wanes in the public sphere. As such, I contend that schools are a place where we can do something about this. We can explore how to create and nurture forums where we learn to listen to one another, respect the rights of others, learn to separate ideas from people, discover the benefits of dispassionate discourse, examine the use of true critical / logical thinking in exploring contemporary issues, and examine how these less civil tactics risk destroying democratic life and discourse. These are achievable tasks in intentional, small, compassionate learning communities.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could establish a growing number of models in our schools for how the larger world can learn to promote a better and more civil society?

How to Start a Micro School

I just released a new episode of the MoonshotEdu Show podcast, an interview with Mara Linaberger. It was a great conversation. We learned about her journey into the world of micro schools. We talked about the value and distinct niche of micro schools in the education ecosystem today. We also got into some of the details of her new book, where she offers a handbook on how you can actually design and launch your own Micro School.

This is part of my ongoing research for what I hope will be a new book that profiles amazing and promising models of micro schools from around the United States and beyond. I’ll be sure to share my learning and journey along the way.

If you are interested, you can check it out over on the podcast website, or I’ve embedded it below for your convenience as well.

47 Challenging & Inspiring Quotes About Learning From Across Time & Around the World

  1. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” – Aristotle
  2. “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
  3. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
  4. “Music has a power of forming the character, and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young.” – Aristotle
  5. “Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education.” – Plato
  6. “Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.” – Confucius
  7. “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” – Cicero
  8. “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Cicero
  9. “Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.” – Heraclitus
  10. “They can conquer who believe they can.” – Virgil
  11. “The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” – Tacitus
  12. “Instruction does much, but encouragement everything.” – Goethe
  13. “Wisdom does not come overnight.” – Somali Proverb
  14. “By trying often, the monkey learns to jump from the tree.” – Buganda Proverb
  15. “The nature of man is always the same; it is their habits that separate them”. – Confucius
  16. “Traveling is learning.” – Kenyan Proverb
  17. “There are five ways in which to become wise: be silent, listen, remember, grow older and study.” – Arab Proverb
  18. “Reading makes a full man, meditation a profound man, discourse a clear man.” – Albanian Proverb
  19. “History is constantly teaching, but it does not find many pupils.” – Austrian Proverb
  20. “Whoever cares to learn will always find a teacher.” – German Proverb
  21. “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” – Voltaire
  22. “Education is what you know, not what’s in the book.” – Egyptian Proverb
  23. “Learn about the future by looking at the past.” – Indian Proverb
  24. “What is the task of higher education? To make a man into a machine. What are the means employed? He is taught how to suffer being bored.” – Nietzsche
  25. “A man with little learning is like the frog who thinks its pond is an ocean.” – Burmese Proverb
  26. “The world is a good teacher, but it charges a huge fee.” – Finnish Proverb
  27. “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.” – Chinese Proverb
  28. Quality is not an act. It is a habit.” – Aristotle
  29. “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.” – Goethe
  30. “A scholar’s ink lasts longer than a martyrs blood.” – Irish Proverb
  31. “A man doesn’t learn to understand anything unless he loves it.” – Goethe
  32. “The seeking for one thing will find another.” – Irish Proverb
  33. “Carve the peg only after studying the hole.” – Korean Proverb
  34. “If you are ugly, learn how to dance.” – Zambian Proverb
  35. “Learning makes some into Mullahs and some into devils.” – Afghan Proverb
  36. “As long as you live, you learn.” – Latvian Proverb
  37. “The first idea that the child must acquire in order to be actively disciplined is that of the difference between good and evil; and the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.” – Montesorri
  38. “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.” – Rene Descartes
  39. “Whoever does not try, does not learn.” – Jewish Proverb
  40. “A silly remark can be made in Latin as well as in Spanish.” – Cervantes
  41. “Knowledge is gained in many schools.” – Hawaiian Proverb
  42. “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.” – Nietzsche
  43. “A foreign language is more easily learned in the kitchen than at school.” -German Proverb
  44. “There’s no catching trout with dry breeches.” – Portuguese Proverb
  45. “It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape –not from our own time, for we are bound by that– but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our own time.” – T.S. Eliot
  46. “Dare to be wise; begin! He who postpones the hour of living rightly is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses.” – Horace
  47. “Without a gentle contempt for education, no gentleman’s education is complete.” – G.K. Chesterton

25 Things to Celebrate About the US Education System

I challenge the status quo in education on this blog, in my other writing, and in my podcast. I champion the idea of looking at policies, systems, and technologies as always having both affordances and limitations, and I can sometimes emphasize the limitations over the affordances. So, I thought I’d take a moment to celebrate what is good and getting better in modern education. Are there limitations to the ideas, innovations, and other things in the following list? Yes, because affordances and limitations are always present, not only affordances and limitations, but strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, good and bad. Nonetheless, here are 25 things that I contend are worthy of at least a momentary celebration.

  1. We have a greater variety of school models, philosophies, and approaches than any other country in the world.
  2. Collectively, we know that great education is always about more than sorting and testing.
  3. We know that stages of human development call for different emphases and environments depending upon the developmental stage of a learner.
  4. We generally reject the conviction that a one-size-fits-all education is the way to go, even if we are still struggling to let that conviction permeate what we do and how we do it.
  5. We have an incredible variety of community-based and extracurricular learning opportunities available to people of all ages, especially in our more populated areas.
  6. We have almost 120,000 libraries (9000+ public libraries, 98,000+ school libraries, and others) in our country, representing an incredible tradition of self-education and celebration of knowledge, reading, and research. By the way, this means that we have far more libraries than we do Starbucks stores.
  7. We have a strong and ever-growing movement in open education resources.
  8. We have an incredibly impressive and ever-growing list of educational innovations who are finding ways to share their word and ideas in the digital world, and they are spreading.
  9. Our Universities, think thanks, independent researchers, and others are producing new and amazing insights and knowledge on a weekly basis. In fact, even in Michael Moore’s critical documentary Where to Invade Next, when he asks an educational leader in the renowned Finland school system where they got some of their best ideas, they pointed to research that emerged right here in the United States. There is a constant flow of new and promising education and relevant psychological research that is released, and people are striving to learn from this research, experiment with it, and use it to create better learning communities.
  10. We argue about education. When you stop caring, you stop arguing, so to me, the arguments have a good side to them. Education is something that we care deeply about.
  11. We strive to create a system of education for all children, regardless of demographic. As one example…
  12. While there is room for improvement in these areas, we invest an incredible about of time and resources to provide education that is accessible and beneficial to people with disabilities.
  13. We support and celebrate the right for families to make choices about where and how to education their children, aligned with International Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, at least 12 states even support this with vouchers or funding that helps extend this choice across socio-economic status.
  14. The micro school and small school movement is growing fast and furious, offering us some wonderful examples of compassionate, caring communities of rich and vibrant learning where each learner is known and valued.
  15. The movement around empowering learning voice and agency as part of equipping them for a full, active, and engaged role in society also continues to gain interest and traction.
  16. Adaptive learning software is getting better, and it will be incredibly powerful in a matter of years.
  17. “It is not about the technology” is now spoken in almost educational technology conference keynote in the country, and explanations of what this means are becoming increasingly nuanced, thoughtful, and substantive.
  18. There is a growing wave of awareness and agreement that schools must strive to become places that celebrate and focus upon the love of learning, and that is challenging some of the inhibitors to greatness that have taken hold of our schools.
  19. There is growing interest among educators in moving beyond grade-focused education and classes. The fact that Mark Barnes’s open Facebook group called “Teachers Throwing Out Grades” has well over 8500 followers is a good sign of this.
  20. In terms of higher education, we have over 4000 different schools, each with different emphases, research, majors, and more.
  21. The amount of education and learning opportunities beyond formal schooling has never been greater.
  22. The number of self-organized or grass-roots learning communities around everything from cooking to world peace has never been greater.
  23. We continue to make progress of recognizing learning and accomplishments that extend beyond formal schooling, allowing us to envision new and powerful reputation systems that can increase access, opportunity, and meaningful connectivity between people and organizations.
  24. The interest in global connections is education is at an all-time high, empowered by new technologies and creative teaching and learning applications of those technologies.
  25. While we have much room for improvement, words like curiosity and creativity are far from four letter words. They are generally celebrated and sought after in our best schools.

Yes, we have room to improve in every one of these areas, but sometimes it is also good to pause and celebrate what is going well. What about you? Consider adding your own “celebrations” by posting a comment.