John Deasy Reflects on the Inaugural Civil Discourse Dinner

October 2017

The first Civil Discourse Dinner in Boston was a remarkable evening. Having dinner and discussing topics of mutual interest, especially among the education community, is nothing new. However, against the backdrop of national discord across so many issues, engaging with leaders with great diversity of thought and professional and personal experience, while still enjoying a great meal, is quite unique.

Many of us in the room would simply not have the occasion to gather like this – seated round a table proximate to difference but rather than arguing, listening and learning from each other. One participant, an education policy expert, remarked “it’s not often you are invited to a dinner that promises to foster civil discourse about education policy.” Nor, I would add, one that creates an environment where the education community can get to know each other, thoughtfully express their viewpoints and also find points of common ground.

It’s not often you are invited to a dinner that promises to foster civil discourse about education policy.
Inaugural Civil Discourse Dinner Attendee

This kind of gathering may be new to us but The Frontline Research & Learning Institute and The Line aim to make it a more regular exercise among education stakeholders. Modeling engagement is important to our purpose. Our readers will note what we’ve been calling “civil discourse in action” within the pages of the second issue of the publication. For example, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García and American Enterprise Institute Resident Scholar Rick Hess take a turn at exchanging their views on school choice in our fall issue. But as important to seeing how this plays out in an article is actually doing it. That’s why we started the Civil Discourse Dinners.

During this first dinner, we found ourselves exploring how to have more constructive conversation with one another but also considering how educators can better support students in doing the same. Now more than ever, students need to be able to talk with one another about all of the issues we face, not just education. A recent high school graduate who attended described it as “telling our truth but in a respectful way.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Still, it’s not often that it happens in this way.

I can’t think of a better place to kick off these dinners than at Boston’s Old State House. In this seat of the American Revolution where new ideas came to life, we acknowledged our differences, expressed our beliefs and were united in our dedication to public education and our desire to grow and learn together. I hope that this dinner set us on the path to modeling civil discourse and reaching common ground in K-12 education.

John Deasy Signature

John E. Deasy, PH.D.
Editor-in-Chief, The Line