Learning from the Election Conversation

Learning from the Election Conversation

What Our Children Must Learn About Respectful Collaboration—
How To Combat Dysfunctional Political Discourse

Irrespective of your particular political leaning, the election results mean the end of what has been, perhaps, one of the most repugnant displays of political discourse in our history.  It is hard to imagine how any future electoral process might sink further into “etiquette limbo”.   No doubt that some enjoyed the all-out abandonment of a reasonable conversation between intelligent representatives.  For most, however, the relief is that we can simply return to the typical unsavory ability of fully grown adults to engage in a collaborative process of problem solving.  In short, someone needs to teach the grownups how to talk respectfully to one another.

Education and business leaders alike are in lockstep on the absolute necessity of our today’s kids becoming highly-skilled collaborators, capable of tackling problems that we don’t know are yet problems with solutions that have not ever been contemplated.  While the unreal hope of children seeing this modeled in public life by our leaders, we are fortunate that any influence there can be counteracted by the daily reinforcement of sound, proven methods of teaching children the art of respectful collaboration.

Let this campaign season serve us to remember how we might teach the next generation something of a different path.  Here are some of the most meaningful critical priorities that effective classroom lessons often involve in developing the skill of collaboration:

  • Teaching accountable talk. Since the first argument you may remember with your best friend growing up likely involved a difference of opinion, ending in name calling about how “stupid” the other was, it is not a long walk to understand that training children to move beyond insult in dialogue is a necessity.  Often, in today’s world, children are asked to engage new kinds of learning that involve higher levels of collaboration than they are accustomed to without much in the way of “training”.  At its core, teaching accountable talk helps children understand the basics of how to deal with the argument a person is making as being distinct from the person themselves.  It teaches children to ask clarifying questions, restate the position of their teammates, and apply logical argumentation to dissenting views.  We cannot simply hope children pick this up at home or on the nightly news.  Instead, regular and consistent training on these basics make for better collaborators.
  • Practice makes perfect. Classrooms that have only a solitary voice (that of the teacher) tend to implicitly teach children that the expert should be our focal point in solving problems.  However, lesson frameworks that focus on student voice ask them to engage their own voice in a co-creative way.  In essence, a classroom where we can hear a multiplicity of voices, a collaborative hum if you will, becomes a training ground that reinforces the potential strength of the team to tackle a problem.
  • Authentic inquiry matters. Asking questions that children care about immediately draws them into something that invokes their emotions, cognitive reasoning, and ultimately their passions.  Engaging questions that have no easy answers, we may call it rigorous and complex tasks, ups the ante even more.  These elements draw children into their learning uniquely.  It prepares them for how difficult it can be to strongly hold a position that others on your team do not share, and yet, for the sake of the search for solution, they continue to engage their peers productively.  In the end, tough questions and the process of answering them become a training ground for what our children will face in the future.

And so we bid farewell to our political season with the reminder that if we do not help our children succeed in their developing their ability to respectfully collaborate, we may yet see another election in the future that rivals an even lower level of relational function.  Let’s work together to see that teaching respectful collaboration finds its way again into the next generation’s public square.