Teaching Civil Discourse

Posted by Diane Hale on 1/22/2017

Somewhere along the way, we gave children the idea that to get along, to be nice, to show respect means to agree. Now, maybe that is a broad generalization, but I began to think about the importance of civil disagreement as something to value when I became engaged in a heated debate with a friend and colleague. After the disagreement we were still friends, of course, but I walked away with new things to think about and a new found respect for my colleague for lighting that path for me. Whether it is sports, politics, or science, we must teach children that disagreement is not only okay, it's necessary for thinking people. 

The following are benefits to learning to disagree respectfully:


Self-Advocacy - Learning to respectfully disagree teaches our students to advocate for themselves. A critical piece to being a good student and a life-long learner is being able to question the teacher, to recognize what you need as a learner, and to ask for it. Advocacy isn't only important for students, but for patients, spouses and friends. Teaching children to ask questions of the teacher or the doctor, or their best friend when things aren't going their way instills a sense of pride and self-respect. 


Critical-Thinking - To really be good in an argument, one has to listen thoroughly and then apply logic and articulate clearly their own side. It's actually a very sophisticated skill. We all know someone who disagrees, but can't provide a clear argument. It is so important that we teach our children that to disagree respectfully means to provide reasoning, evidence, and logic to support he argument. 


Anger Management - There is nothing worse than holding in that anger or opposing view. Teaching children to ignore something is okay sometimes, but in most cases, talking out issues is the real solution to conflict resolution. Teaching children to do this for themselves allows them to feel and experience emotion without feeling like they have to hold it in. No one says an argument needs to involve yelling, and certainly never violence. Learning to calmly express feelings is very good for the social and emotional health of children. 


Mutual Respect - It seems like manners would be the last thing mentioned in a blog about disagreements, but mutual respect means respect in both directions and builds a sense of trust for a healthy environment for disagreements. When children can feel respect in the midst of disagreement, they feel safe. It makes children think "If my friends and classmates still treat me with respect even while disagreeing with me, I must be in a safe place to be myself." 


As we look at the recent discourse in our country about issues and politics, let's take a minute to teach a better example for our children. Show them what it means to disagree respectfully, argue amicably, and protest positively. Don't turn off the TV and pretend it's not there. Don't tell your child to ignore it because it's "not nice", instead, take the time to teach what civil discourse looks like and why it is good for all of us.