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Civil Discourse

Civil Discourse
Classroom Conversations for Stronger Communities

Julie Stern, Consulting Editor

May 2022 | 216 pages | Corwin

Build civil discourse with courage, understanding, belonging, and empathy.

Discomfort lies at the heart of all learning and growth, especially concerning discussions on difficult and complex topics like climate change, slavery, and police brutality. This book presents ways to help teachers become strong facilitators—not endorsers—of contentious conversations to promote a stronger sense of community.

There are four themes that arise when exploring civil discourse: courage, understanding, belonging, and empathy. This book is organized around these themes, each chapter providing resources for educators to teach the skills of discourse with:

  • How-to tips for bringing work beyond the classroom
  • Chapter checklists to guide progress and assess learning
  • Exploration of different types of discourse (dialogue, discussion, debate) and when to use each
  • Steps for preparing a classroom for contentious conversations
  • Activities to practice discourse and disagreement

Addressing the problem of how to have politically and emotionally charged conversations in the classroom, this book guides 6-12 educators – particularly teachers of history, civics, ELA, and other social studies and humanities disciplines -- in facilitating discussions based on fact, intellectual reasoning, and mutual respect.

Chapter 1: Courage: Why discomfort cannot be avoided
Chapter 2: Understanding: Gaining clarity on the meaning of terms
Chapter 3: Belonging: Establishing a classroom community
Chapter 4: Empathy: Preparation with safe topics
Chapter 5: Discourse: Structures for contentious topics
Chapter 6: Growth: Improving and expanding our impact
Conclusion: Staying the Course and Continuous Improvement

In a time of increasing political and social polarization, understanding the ins and outs of civil discourse has never been more important or potentially more impactful. As with so much else, it is often left up to our educators to navigate a difficult path in ensuring that students learn how to engage in civil discourse around difficult conversations. Civil Discourse: Classroom Conversations for Stronger Communities provides both experienced and beginning educators with a way to navigate that path. It is an engaging and enjoyable map for the educator looking for a way forward in improving discussion and tackling tough issues!

Steve Masyada
Executive Director Lou Frey Institute, University of Central Florida

This is a timely and needed work for teachers engaging in democratic education. The authors both provide practical approaches to engaging with controversies within the classroom and take on key issues of the day—namely, polarization, the effects of misinformation, and the need to engage with others in civil and empathic ways. They make the case for how schools can play a role in addressing these issues and provide practical and applicable steps forward for teachers at a time when these practices may place them under a political microscope in their communities.

Jeremy Stoddard
Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Director of Graduate Studies and UW Teach University of Wisconsin–Madison

Schmidt and Pinkney write at a time when the need for students to engage in true dialogue and discourse is more important than ever. The pointed examples, protocols and structures, and compelling data make this an essential tool for every educator who engages in such rich topics. Students are naturally curious, opinionated, and eager to discuss bold ideas and controversial concepts, and as a result, they need deft educators who are equipped to teach the skills in discourse while thinking critically, suspending judgement. This book fills an important void in the education of educators to effectively nurture a community of learners, of any age, to critically explore the ideas, beliefs, and perspectives of those around them.

Scott Thomas
Minnesota School Administrator

Schmidt and Pinkney have created a road map for educators to build confidence in instilling the skills of civic engagement in students. As they brilliantly note, by not talking to those with whom we disagree, we are choosing to ignore our interdependence. Economic, social, educational, and environmental benefits can all develop in the form of a well-informed voter focused not on the correct answer but rather on the correct way to navigate civil discourse. This reading gives me hope that students today will be better equipped to create a sustainable civil society for us all.

Stephanie Rogers Canter
EdTech Professional, Advocate for Progressive Educational Policy, and Local Elected Official

I can almost hear social studies teachers’ collective sigh of relief. Schmidt and Pinkney have written a book that illuminates one of education’s great challenges and offers realistic, reasonable, and attainable recommendations. The balance of structure and flexibility in their approach reflects an authentic understanding of what it means to be a classroom teacher in this moment. The authors honor teachers’ professionalism and expertise, with vigorous assurance that we all have much to learn. The whole book feels like a PLC of gifted, welcoming teachers gathered in a comfortable teachers’ lounge, coffee in hand, ready to solve all the world’s problems.

Jessica Ellison
Teacher Education and Curriculum Development, Minnesota Historical Society

Schmidt and Pinkney indisputably define and provide a road map/strategy for civil discourse. In a time when barbershop, hair salon, club, and church meeting conversations can turn contentious and even violent at times, these strategies are a welcomed resource. Providing our students with the necessary skills and processes of considerate, thought-provoking discourse may foster transformation of our individual communities.

Chanda Robinson
CEO and Founder Chanda Robinson, Consulting Member of the National Council for the Social Studies Board of Directors

Schmidt and Pinkney provide a blueprint for teachers who face the daily challenge of tackling contentious topics. Civil Discourse: Classroom Conversations for Stronger Communities is a timely resource that will assist teachers with building a classroom culture built on courage, understanding, belonging, and empathy. Teachers are provided helpful strategies that will bolster teacher confidence and ultimately make a positive impact on student learning.

Daniel Kelley
Principal Smithfield High School Smithfield, RI

With our homogenized neighborhoods and echo chamber media bubbles, schools are one of the few places where Americans can engage in discourse about important topics with people who hold differing viewpoints. Civil Discourse provides teachers with clear guidance on how to facilitate these invaluable conversations in their classrooms. Teachers from all grade levels will benefit from the wisdom found in these pages.

Bruce Lesh
Former High School Teacher and Social Studies Department Chair, Baltimore County Public Schools

Learning how to teach contentious issues is difficult for preservice teachers who don’t yet have the confidence to facilitate these types of discussions with students. Civil Discourse: Classroom Conversations for Stronger Communities is a road map for teachers on how to get started. Schmidt and Pinkney focus on building community, which is often overlooked in conversations about teaching contentious topics. They lay a foundation for how to have civil discourse in all classrooms—not just social studies ones. This book highlights civil discourse as a life skill—one that all teachers can practice learning from.

Annie McMahon Whitlock
Associate Professor of Elementary Education, University of Michigan-Flint

In a time when a primer on engaging students in meaningful and purposeful discourse on public matters has never been more needed, Schmidt and Pinkney deliver a comprehensive vision. Each chapter provides a substantive explanation and actionable recommendations for how teachers, collaborative teams, and administrations can work to transform social studies instruction into a much needed foundry for democratic citizenship.

Jenifer Hitchcock
Teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

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ISBN: 9781071856192

For large school/district orders, volume discounts, availability and shipping times contact customer service at 800-233-9936

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