Last Word: Why Civil Discourse

February 2017

Among the most guiding and editorial principles of The Line is to model, promote and engage in civil discourse.

One might be tempted to wonder, “Why the need for this type of communication?” The recent national election and the campaigning leading up to it seemed to model anything but civil discourse. And, for better or worse, through that process, we are again experiencing the peaceful transfer of power.

We are watching a new administration communicate mostly through declaratory and truncated Twitter, and we have watched both long respected news organizations and later information delivery platforms alike report conduct and comment by our now president and several of his cabinet picks that defy the apparent need for, or value of, civil discourse.

So why the need for this once reverential form of mutual engagement? I posit civil discourse may be more necessary than ever. The apparent deep fracture in our country’s politic, and for that matter, nearly all other institutions including public education may very well stem from the distinct absence of the polite exchange of ideas and differing points-of-view. And to this point, I believe Americans have come to believe that agreement is a necessary condition for civil discourse, so that when there is disagreement and even deep disagreement, there is no longer a need for civil discourse.

To bridge divide, I believe we must become more proximate to those we differ with cloaked in the very act of civil discourse.
John E. Deasy, Editor-in-Chief

It simply gets in the way of supporting and defending my point. And herein lies the serious problem and potential solution to the state of affairs of our national fracture(s). The very problem with the antecedent that agreement is a necessary condition for civil discourse is that it creates a corrosive environment that directly undermines civil discourse. Agreement as a pre-determinant helps establish structures of competitive destruction. And the resultant conduct ranges from ignoring to a politic of hatred, distrust and destruction.

This requires all efforts to be aimed at defending and securing one’s own position … only, and at all cost, because the result is either loss or win.

Part of the solution, and one this publication espouses, is to understand the distinction between difference and divide, and the powerful significance of that distinction. I believe difference is the starting point for learning, whereas divide is the starting point for destructive behavior. Behavior based in learning, not destruction, require civil discourse. It is in this construct that civil discourse is the basis for new learning and understanding.

Civil discourse supports the journey of understanding difference and seeking solution. This type of behavior helps bridge divide. To bridge divide, I believe we must become more proximate to those we differ with cloaked in the very act of civil discourse. And it will require the act of ‘sitting with contradiction.’

Getting close to difference is a risk, although the risk of not doing this is far greater and puts the very foundation of these United States in peril. The Line attempts to put difference in close proximity, guided by the principle of civil discourse, so that we may better understand, learn and endeavor to forge collective progress on the most vexing issues of our work in public education, social justice and innovation.

So instead of being consumed with winning my side of an issue — at all cost — and not simply walking away when divide arises, while putting in my headphones, and listening to my playlist, on my personal device, or watching my shows on my entertainment channel, while streaming my choice of information and news, let us seek to understand difference and use the pages of this publication as one vehicle in this critical task.