I love to talk. This probably doesn't come as a surprise to most of you. But I do. I love to talk. But more than talking, I love to have conversations. I love discussing topics, hearing different sides, engaging in civil discourse. I grew up in a household where each night at dinner, we would have discussions about topics in the news. I grew up in the 70s. Women's rights were key topics of conversation. So was the Vietnam War. Integration of neighborhoods and schools was a topic much discussed. And, as I got older and more rebellious, I would come up with the topics - why drugs and prostitution should be legalized, why organized religion was the root of all our problems, why finishing high school wasn't really that important in the long run.
Now, I might have started these discussions to shock my parents (and their poor friends who happened to stop by for dessert) but I learned a great deal from them. I learned how to listen. I learned how to respond. I learned to respect the opinions of others even if I didn't agree with them. Basically, I learned what was acceptable and what was not in a discussion. So even if I couldn't get anyone to agree with my point that high school was a waste of time and so was going to temple each week, I did get them to listen to my point of view and I got to hear theirs, without being told I was immature, just a child, or just had to do what I was told. And I did find that this art of civil discourse came in handy. I was notorious, for example, for getting teachers to change assignments, using respect and reason.
Cut to the present day. I still find myself enjoying discussions. But more and more, I am finding that, online at least, respectful disagreements are extremely difficult to have. I have found myself following conversations in plurk or twitter about - well about plurk or twitter - and the comments made about certain individuals are bordering on rude. Why is it that people feel the need to make disparaging comments about a person's behavior just because they choose to use or not use an online tool? I have also found that comments to my blog are seen as negative simply because they disagree with my point of view. Now I do love that my readers show support. However, I want to hear other views. It's one way I learn. If I only hear from people who agree with everything I say, then how will I ever learn of other ways of doing, thinking, teaching?
One such situation was a comment to a blog in which I had briefly mentioned the topic of conversation for a new webcast. Chris Craft did exactly what blogs are designed to do. He added to the conversation. I found it quite interesting that, while I was in the middle of a discussion with him about my topic of choice, others felt the need to support me against this "academic, snobby, and uppity" person. I was excited by what he had to offer to my blog. And I added some books to my reading list so I can learn more. I, myself, did not find him "academic, snobby, and uppity." He was not disrespectful or insulting. He was broadening my area of understanding.
So I ask: When did we lose the art of Civil Discourse? When did we forget that disagreements are what move us forward? When did it become so awful to give a differing opinion? I'm obviously not the only one asking these questions. I have been hearing grumblings of the need to read blogs written by people with differing viewpoints. Even ISTE's May issue of Leading and Learning ran an article, called "Don't Feed the Trolls", about teaching students Civil Discourse.
This Sunday morning, Maria Knee and I are starting a new EdTechTalk show called Conversations. The whole point of this show is to give a venue for Civil Discourse. Come join us and voice your opinions. As long as you do it respectfully, we'd love to have you. I truly want to learn. Do you?
Picture 1 by Inkyhack in Flickr.
Picture 2 by Svenwork in Flickr.