Researchers have long documented the lack of robust discussions of public issues in the classroom. Given the current environment of increasing ideological and cultural diversity, many teachers are fearful that open discussions may be hurtful to marginalized students, that they do not have the skills to manage discussions if they become especially “spirited,” and that they do not have support for administrators in the event of parent or community complaints.

Respectful Conversations in Schools (RCS) provides teachers and students with a model for approaching controversial public issues that is responsive to the current political climate, particularly the increase in political polarization.

Softening Hearts, Not Changing Minds

The model is designed to increase students’ civic (a) knowledge (issues knowledge, issues perspectives, democratic principles/values), (b) participation skills, including perspective-taking, communication, group membership, and conflict resolution skills; and (c) dispositions, including political efficacy and empathy in dialogue across difference.

There are four aspects to a RCS:

  1. Two rounds of questions designed to move a group to a deeper understanding of a predetermined topic.
  2. One round of “Questions of Genuine Interest” designed to more fully understand the other’s point of view
  3. A closing round designed to help participants reflect on the experience individuals and as a group.
  4. A follow up written assignment that allows students to read an assigned text and identify evidence or arguments supporting or contradicting statements shared during the RCS.

Respectful Conversations in Schools is a collaboration between Minnesota Civic Youth, the Minnesota Council of Churches and the University of Minnesota. This unique partnership between a secular nonprofit organization, a faith-based nonprofit organization, public schools and higher education reflects our shared concern for the future of democratic discourse and ultimately, the erosion of core democratic practices and principles.

If you are interested in learning more about Respectful Conversations in Schools, contact Amy Anderson at 651-955-1679 or amy@mncivicyouth.org.