May 31, 2013

Best Practices: A Higher Look at The Relationships of Technology and Conversations, and Political Polarity and Conversations (The Observations of Peter W. Cookson Jr. and Joan Blades)

by Herb Klitzner

Most search results for Best Practices and Structured/Socratic Conversations are in the specialized areas of Legal Education and School Education. But two of the most interesting of the results are more broad-based, looking at the special worth of Socratic and structured conversations for two aspects of our current society: technology and political polarization.

Peter W. Cookson Jr., of the Yale Divinity School, sees the opportunity of Socratic dialogues to temper the meaning and shape the rush of information today. Joan Blades, founder of MoveOn, sees something similar in terms of the creation of Civil Discourse about community issues deeper than partisan politics. Both articles, and their proposed methods, are very thoughtful, in terms of the social needs they articulate.

Their thoughts are excerpted below, with links to their full articles:



September 2009 | Volume 67 | Number 1
Teaching for the 21st Century Pages 8-14

What Would Socrates Say?

Peter W. Cookson Jr.

When technology pairs up with Socratic inquiry, students have an opportunity to start a purposeful conversation—with the world.

My greatest fear about 21st century education is that Socrates’ humility will be turned on its head. The noted philosopher once said, “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” My fear is that instead of knowing nothingexcept the fact of our own ignorance, we will know everything except the fact of our own ignorance. Google has given us the world at our fingertips, but speed and ubiquity are not the same as actually knowing something.

What Would Socrates Do?

At the beginning of the 20th century, the world’s population was 1.6 billion; at the beginning of the 21st century, it is roughly 6.6 billion. To meet the education needs of this rising tide of humanity, we must think outside the box of conventional schooling.

To start, we must overhaul and redesign the current school system. We face this great transition with both hands tied behind our collective backs if we continue to pour money, time, and effort into an outdated system of education. Mass education belongs in the era of massive armies, massive industrial complexes, and massive attempts at social control. We have lost much talent since the 19th century by enforcing stifling education routines in the name of efficiency. Current high school dropout rates clearly indicate that our standardized testing regime and outdated curriculums are wasting the potential of our youth.

If we stop thinking of schools as buildings and start thinking of learning as occurring in many different places, we will free ourselves from the conventional education model that still dominates our thinking. Socrates did not teach in a conventional classroom; his classroom was wherever he and his students found themselves. His was the first “personal learning network,” and he taught with the most enduring teaching tool of all time—the purposeful conversation. He called himself a citizen of the world because the questions he asked were universal.

Even though Socrates was a philosopher, he did not hide in an ivory tower. He used knowledge to challenge the status quo. I think Socrates would embrace the new learning era with all the energy he had. We need that same embrace today to move beyond the false dichotomies and empty arguments of our tired education disagreements and to joyously engage with the future.

“Open Your ears. Open your mind. Open your home.”

The Next Citizen’s Movement — Respectful Dialogue

Posted on December 8, 2011 by Joan

By Joan Blades — On December 4, 2011, the Living Room Conversations Website went live and I co-hosted a demonstration Living Room Conversation gathering with my conservative partner Amanda Kathyrn Roman. I’m still feeling the glow. I expanded my understanding of where we might find common ground across party lines around reducing the influence of big money in politics, and people participating in the conversation expressed interest in a future Living Room Conversation about immigration. What a pleasure conversing respectfully and constructively with a small diverse group that included a Republican mayor and a Republican candidate for state elected office. Intimate, structured conversations work!

I wrote the following note to invite my guests to the Living Room Conversation which took place on December 4th. Now I’d like to invite both individuals and organizations to use the materials on our website to have a living room conversation and then tell us about it! We have so much to learn and together! This holiday season I’m dreaming of tens of thousands of Living Room Conversations happening across our nation next year.

As the co-founder of both MoveOn and MomsRising, I’ve had the privilege of being on the cutting edge of some profound changes in the way citizens engage in politics online and off. In 1998 it felt like we caught a tiger by the tail when MoveOn had 500,000 people sign the one sentence petition to, “Censure the President and move on to pressing issues facing the country.” In 2000, MoveOn raised over 2 million dollars in contributions for House and Senate candidates online. That was extraordinary at that time. MoveOn was part of the biggest antiwar movement in the history of the world. It still breaks my heart that the huge wave of citizen oppositions failed to stop the war in Iraq from being started. MomsRising is a new vibrant voice in the women’s movement, it already has more than a million members and works with more than 150 policy partners. Through my work with both of these organizations, I’ve come to trust the good will and common sense of average citizens more than anything.

The Living Room Conversations project leverages the common sense of average citizens, and believes that through a movement beginning with intimate local conversations, citizens from across the political spectrum just might be able to short circuit the destructive political dynamics we find ourselves trapped in. Living Room Conversations is an open source effort to share best practices for hosting small structured conversations so that people with diverse views can have constructive heartfelt conversations. We are eager to learn how to do this even better. Might a grassroots conversation movement be able to usher in a culture of respectful civil dialogue? Co-host or join a conversation to find out!


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