5 Key Learnings from the Civil Discourse Dinner in Santa Monica

March 2018

The Frontline Research & Learning Institute kicked off its 2018 Civil Discourse Dinner series in Santa Monica with education leaders and advocates from across the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

John Deasy, editor-in-chief for The Line and former LAUSD superintendent, along with Harry Keiley, board member of the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) and editorial advisory board member for The Line, facilitated this Civil Discourse Dinner that explored the role and reality of liberty in education. Fittingly, liberty is the focus of the upcoming third issue of The Line that will be released this spring.

Each of the three tables filled with policy leaders, school choice advocates as well as detractors, thought leaders, educators and philanthropists answered this question: How may education leaders balance the rights of individual students with those of the school community?

The tables got right to work; diving in before the entrées were served. Participants posed thoughtful questions and pushed back when opposing opinions on everything from the famed bussing efforts in Boston to the #TakeAKnee movement were discussed.

The result was a lively and impassioned conversation that sat on the edge of civil discourse with plenty of lessons learned including the power of listening and the importance of working toward common ground.

Five Key Learnings from the Santa Monica Civil Discourse Dinner

What they said:


At the Civil Discourse Dinner, I was fortunate to engage in stimulating dialogue with fellow residents around the topic of liberty. The experience emphasized the importance of “active listening” and finding our “common interest” around critical and complex topics. I look forward to engaging others in a similar format during 2018!

— Harry Keiley

[Carrying forward the idea of civil discourse] is one of the great challenges of our time and our work. I try very hard to live this.

— Civil Discourse Dinner Santa Monica Attendee

I like the idea of saying ‘here’s why I don’t agree with you’ instead of ‘you’re wrong.’

— Civil Discourse Dinner Santa Monica Attendee

5 Key Learnings from the Civil Discourse Dinner in Santa Monica

  • Participants with differing opinions are not always as divided as it seems when it comes to the core issues. It shocks the participants as much as it shocks us!
  • Participants with similar opinions don’t always agree on the best path to achieve their shared goals. These can be the most difficult and interesting conversations to navigate.
  • Conversations may be dominated by a few passionate people, however the most poignant moments of the evening frequently come from the least likely sources.
  • While everyone at the event receives the same main question and prompts, conversations vary widely from table to table.
  • Moderators are incredibly helpful in steering early parts of the conversation, however he or she is rarely needed to keep the conversation going once it starts!

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