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Civil Discourse

Civil Discourse
Classroom Conversations for Stronger Communities

Julie Stern, Consulting Editor

June 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

I strongly recommend that educators interested in high-quality discussion as both a form and outcome of pedagogy read Civil Discourse: Classroom
Conversations for Stronger Communities. Schmidt and Pinkney bring decades of experience to the task of expertly situating the need to teach young people how to participate in civil discourse in our current political context. Through lively and well-written narrative, the authors bring a lot of new wine to a venerable bottle. Readers will walk away with strong rationales for focusing on civil discourse in schools, along with very clear and pragmatic examples of what good looks like.

Diana E. Hess
Dean, University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education

How can schools and teachers prepare our youngest citizens to actively engage in discourse about issues in society? Schmidt and Pinkney’s book
brilliantly explains why discussing contentious issues matters, for both the future of our democracy and student learning, while providing a wealth of practical ideas and resources for teachers. This book couldn’t be more timely and enduring.

Stefanie Rosenberg Wager
Past President of the National Council for the Social Studies

Helping young people to learn to discuss contentious issues is one of the most promising ways to strengthen—and even to save—our republic. In
Civil Discourse: Classroom Conversations for Stronger Communities, Schmidt and Pinkney provide a scholarly, thoughtful, and also highly practical guide to doing just that. Teachers will find it extraordinarily useful.

Peter Levine
Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University

Schmidt and Pinkney are seasoned and masterful social studies educators and advocates. They present the topic of civil discourse in a manner that is knowledgeable and approachable. The strategies presented in Civil Discourse: Classroom Conversations for Stronger Communities implore educators to be courageous and incorporate these techniques and practices in their classrooms.

Amber Coleman-Mortley
Podcaster, Civic Evangelist, and Parent Educator

Masterful and timely, Schmidt and Pinkney’s Civil Discourse: Classroom Conversations for Stronger Communities, is—to paraphrase David McCullough—“a guide [for social studies teachers] to navigation in perilous times.” This brilliantly scaffolded set of practices guides social studies teachers through the often-challenging process of bringing meaningful and constructive civil discourse into the classroom. This is a must-have for your social studies classroom.

Nathan McAlister
Social Studies Teacher, 2010 National History Teacher of the Year

Schools can never be culturally neutral terrains devoid of politics. And because of this, educators will continue to grapple with the teaching of potentially contentious topics. We live in a time where students and educators are confronted with political debates, blatant racism, a global pandemic, and more. Civil Discourse offers classroom teachers and school leaders a practical guide to facilitate classroom conversations with knowledge and sensitivity. It will equip you with strategies and tools to not only act tomorrow but to critically reflect on your own practice as an educator.

Darnell Fine
Instructional Coach

Civil discourse is essential for a functioning democracy. Schmidt and Pinkney lay out a step-by-step guide using building blocks that allow educators to help build communities in their classrooms by allowing them to foster civil discourse with their students. They involve multiple stakeholders in the solution-based approach to discussing contentious topics in classrooms and how that can make a larger impact outside the classroom. This is a must-read for all who work with students and who want to make an impact through civil discourse.

Elizabeth Evans
Director of Civic Education Center for Political Thought and Leadership, Arizona State University

Civil Discourse: Classroom Conversations for Stronger Communities offers hope and help for educators during this highly polarized moment. Co-authors Schmidt and Pinkney urge educators to take courage and view contentious topics as an opportunity to train and instill understanding, belonging, and empathy in students. This book is packed with ideas, tips, and strategies to aid the educator in successfully establishing and cultivating a classroom where civil discourse leads to a community where students learn to accept and celebrate differences with maturity and respect; with Civil Discourse, students will learn how to think, not what to think.

Karalee Wong Nakatsuka
United States History Teacher Arcadia, CA 2019 Gilder Lehrman California History Teacher of the Year

Engaging students in discussion requires the teacher to think about much more than which questions to ask. Covering everything from how to communicate with parents to what to do when discussions go awry, this succinct guide provides educators with the foundations and strategies they need to create high-quality classroom discussions.

Paula McAvoy
PhD Coordinator for the Social Studies Program Area of Study, North Carolina State University

Now, more than ever, our young people need to be equipped with the right tools to engage in critical conversations that will allow them to take informed action on issues that negatively impact our society. Civil Discourse, with its practical guidance for building community, cultivating empathy, and leaning into discomfort with contentious topics, is exactly the type of resource that educators, no matter the subject area, need to support the next generation of change makers. Bravo and thank you!

Fay Gore
Former Director of K–12 Social Studies, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Co-Editor of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (2013)

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ISBN: 9781071856192