One of the “moves” that makes a ProjectCiv discussion successful? Taking time before the discussion begins to be grateful.

When I started ProjectCiv, I just had a topic. I had some discussion rules. Heck, since I’m a school librarian at a high school, I didn’t even have a regular classroom. I just knew that I had kids who were talking about politics, but they were in an echo chamber. I even had some students who were watching political debates online- they liked the idea of “owning the libs” or “owning the cons.”

At first, I just had students get into groups, read the rules, and go. But then I realized that I really wanted to start in a moment of unity, and the best way to do that was by connecting what students were doing (engaging in a discussion about a topic with others who may disagree with them) with the positive implications.

So this is why I begin a ProjectCiv discussion with a moment of gratitude. What I say to students usually goes something like this:

Today, you are going to share your ideas and your opinions with your group. The right to do that is enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution, and so today you are being very American! Furthermore, whatever opinion you take away from this discussion, you can act on it. You can petition your elected officials for a change. You can write a Letter to the Editor. You can peaceably gather. You have agency. And reading widely and having this discussion helps you make a better argument. Studies show that politically diverse teams are more effective. So you’re helping your group members. And when your group members push back on your ideas, they’re helping you. So let’s give our group a high-five and tell them thanks!

We shouldn’t forget that for students- heck, for all of us- having discussions about possibly controversial topics is hard. So what the moment of gratitude does is make something that’s hard into a positive. It also unites us with those who may have a different opinion.



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