Archive for the 'Dialogue' Category

Inviting “big talk”

Make a life in which you are having the conversations you want to have.” — Laura Mott

Resilient people are proactive, and one of the ways they demonstrate that quality is by creating conversations that matter to them with their families and friends and in their work settings.

Think of those conversations as “big” rather than “small.”

While small talk has important purposes, large talk matters because it is far more likely to produce meaningful learning and to strengthen relationships.

During these conversations participants come to understand important things about themselves, each other, and the subject under discussion.

The world would be a better place, I believe, if such conversations were more frequently cultivated in families and the workplace.

In an earlier post I wrote that conversations for learning require:

• intentionality, 

• deep and mindful listening, 

• slowness that provides opportunities for thinking and elaboration, 

• an openness to learning based on a deep respect for the experiences and perspectives of others, and

an invitation, which may be as simple and straight forward as “please tell me more.” (Australian educator Edna Sackson explains how even difficult conversations can be improved when they begin with such invitations.)

What “requirements” would you add to my list?

3 primary threats to public education

We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis. Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it. —Kristina L. Taylor

A robust system of public education is essential for a thriving democracy and a growing economy.

Historically, Americans have invested in public institutions.

Nikole Hannah-Jones describes that history in a piece titled, “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?”:

“Early on, it was this investment in public institutions that set America apart from other countries. Public hospitals ensured that even the indigent received good medical care — health problems for some could turn into epidemics for us all. Public parks gave access to the great outdoors not just to the wealthy who could retreat to their country estates but to the masses in the nation’s cities. Every state invested in public universities. Public schools became widespread in the 1800s, not to provide an advantage for particular individuals but with the understanding that shuffling the wealthy and working class together (though not black Americans and other racial minorities) would create a common sense of citizenship and national identity, that it would tie together the fates of the haves and the have-nots and that doing so benefited the nation. A sense of the public good was a unifying force because it meant that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the meek, shared the spoils — as well as the burdens — of this messy democracy….”

Public schools today are being profoundly affected by strong social and political forces that those invested in the future of this country cannot ignore.

Those forces are part of a larger anti-public institution agenda that has been gaining momentum for several decades.

Public education as we know it has, in my view, three primary threats:

1. Radical capitalists who believe that maximum profit should be extracted from every revenue source, including those provided by taxpayers to support the public good.  A primary strategy to divert funds intended for public education is to denigrate and create distrust regarding teachers, teacher unions, and, most of all, public education in general.

2. Poverty and low-quality healthcare that has a particularly profound affect in impoverished neighborhoods and communities on the ability of young people to learn and on their overall well-being. (You can read more about the effects of poverty on children here and here.)

3. The possibility that unrelenting attacks on teachers and the consequences of high-stakes testing and other “reforms” will demoralize teachers and create a sense of resignation about the chances for meaningful improvement. That, in turn, would provide a further opportunity for radical capitalists to exert their will over public education.

Nonetheless, Hannah-Jones continues to place her faith in public schools:

“If there is hope for a renewal of our belief in public institutions and a common good, it may reside in the public schools. Nine of 10 children attend one, a rate of participation that few, if any, other public bodies can claim, and schools, as segregated as many are, remain one of the few institutions where Americans of different classes and races mix. The vast multiracial, socioeconomically diverse defense of public schools that DeVos set off may show that we have not yet given up on the ideals of the public — and on ourselves.”   

Although public education has been an important force for the common good over many generations of students, there is no guarantee that it will continue to play its historic role in American life.

It remains to be seen if the public good provided by public education is sufficiently resilient to withstand these threats as they are intensified over the next several years.

What would you add to or subtract from my list?

Together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone

Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a manner that multiplies: it took a village to translate Park’s act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. —Parker Palmer

Resilient people understand that sustaining a commitment to significant change requires the support, guidance, and inspiration of a community.

But not all groups are created equal in their resilience and effectiveness.

Groups that make a difference:

• have skillful, committed leaders who maintain focus and momentum over time,

• ensure that group time is used productively to achieve the group’s goals,

• have a stable core membership,

• engage in high-impact activities,

• follow through on plans with accountability for results, and

• train group members to successfully complete agreed upon activities.

In schools such collective work requires strong teamwork which can take a variety of forms.

In the area of social justice and political change the group RESULTS sets the standard for grass roots advocacy. Its purpose is to end poverty by “improving access to education, health, and economic opportunity” through advocacy and education of policy makers.

More recently “Indivisible” groups are forming and beginning to take action in many communities throughout the United States. Their purpose is to create local pressure on members of Congress to counter the most destructive policies and actions of the new administration, and even at this early date it appears that they are beginning to have some success.

Indivisible’s advocacy is based “…on a simple idea: Donald Trump’s agenda doesn’t depend on Donald Trump. It depends on your elected members of Congress and whether they go along with him—or whether they fight back.”

If any or all of these approaches are appealing, I encourage you to get involved.

Remember:

• that demagogues win when citizens feel overwhelmed and become resigned to the status quo, and

• that together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone.

I am relying on the long-term resilience of…

• the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law

• the courage of countless individuals within government and outside of it who speak truth to power in the face of bullying and other forms of intimidation

• the power of existing and yet-to-be established groups that will empower citizens to stand for America’s founding principles and place in the world community

• a free and independent press that will relentlessly seek and tell the truth to the highest journalistic standards

considered judgment over raw opinion and impulsivity

• science and rational evidence-based decision making over ignorance and superstition

• the historic capacity of Americans to resist tyranny wherever it may arise

sanity-preserving humor over arrogance and vindictiveness

generosity over greed

a sense of “we” over “me”

Most of all, I’m relying on the resilience of love to prevail over hate, inclusiveness over exclusiveness, respect over disrespect, civility over incivility, and reasoned debate over emotion and propaganda.

I don’t know if any one of these qualities will be sufficient, but I am hopeful that in combination they will provide a brighter future for all of us.

In what do you place your hope?

Our words matter…

As this political season has taught us, the feelings that words evoke are contagious. They can uplift and unite us or create hatred and division.

Likewise, particular words have a unique emotional resonance to each of us because of the meaning they possess in our life experience.

Here a few words that have such resonance for me:

Empower, as in enabling others by delegating authority and responsibility

Voice, as in “expressing our uniqueness” or enabling others to express their uniqueness (see “empower”)

Conversation, as in thinking deeply with others about important topics with an openness to learning

Learn, as in changing what we belief, understand, and/or do

Teach, as in promoting the intellectual, emotional, and physical growth and well being of others

Witness, as in “bearing witness to” the life circumstances of others.

What words most resonate with you?

Bridging the divide

Dennis

This political season has underscored the significant and emotionally-charged differences in values and perspectives that divide Americans.

Too many people from all political persuasions follow some variation of this thought process, perhaps unconsciously:

• You and I have different political views.

• Therefore, you are wrong.

• And, because you are wrong, you are evil.

I have learned that it is much harder to travel down the road of such harsh judgments once we have listened carefully and with empathy to the life stories of others to more deeply understand the people and events that shaped their views.

Such listening does not mean that we will necessarily agree with their reasoning nor that we will be able to influence their points of view.

But it will make it possible for us to see them as human beings worthy of respect, a quality that seems to be in short supply these days.

While I am not naive enough to believe that listening with empathy is the bridge across those differences, I do think it is the onramp to that bridge and an essential step in addressing the profound differences that divide us as a nation.

Do you agree?

Promote inquiry by asking “why”

Dennis

“I talk a lot less than I used to. I still talk too much, and I work on this every single day. A mentor of mine once told me, “You stop at the first question. Keep asking ‘why,’ and then ask again, and then ask again, because you’re not going to get remotely close to the truth unless you keep asking questions.” He would literally say, “Ask ‘why’ six times.”” —Dottie Mattison: Talk Less, but Ask ‘Why’ More

A consistent theme in these essays over the past several years has been the importance of deep versus superficial understanding.

Pairing “exquisite listening” with the kind of inquiry suggested by Dottie Mattison is a powerful means of developing understanding of important problems and issues and of strengthening relationships.

Asking “why” five times (sometimes called “the 5 whys”) or six times, as Mattison’s mentor suggested, is a means of helping individuals and groups explore in deeper and richer ways their own beliefs, values, and understandings.

It is also a way to better understand the root causes of problems that may be only superficially understood.

When have you used the “5 whys” or other methods of deep inquiry and with what results?


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