Civil Dialogue and Citizenship
Navigating Our Deepest Differences
Political polarization and contempt in American society is on the rise. Students are coming of age in a society that cannot communicate across differences. Continuing on this path could be disastrous for our constitutional republic. Public schools are charged with preparing students to be engaged citizens in a diverse public square.
Civil dialogue, in which we respect the human dignity of others and their freedom to disagree, is a citizenship skill. It’s important for students to learn in school how to seek understanding of others who think differently, but still share the same public square. This two part lesson begins the process of introducing the skill of civil dialogue to students. Students will learn about moral philosopher Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundation Theory about the difference between Liberals and Conservatives and apply the theory to their own political views. They’ll learn about the friendship of Justices Ginsburg and Scalia who cultivated a friendship together in spite of their vast political differences. Then students will reflect on their own friendships across differences. Students will then learn about the meaning of civil dialogue and its difference from debate. Lastly, in pairs, students will practice an empathy exercise and then a civil dialogue exercise in which they disagree with their partner.
The 3Rs Framework
The Utah 3Rs Project promotes the civic understanding of constitutional rights by using humanities education to promote the 3Rs of religious liberty: every person has Rights; we all have the Responsibility to protect the rights of others, including people who are different; and we all have the duty to be Respectful toward other people even when we disagree.
The Utah 3Rs Project is a civic education initiative that uses humanities scholarship to cultivate students’ knowledge about the origins and effects of the First Amendment’s religion clauses. Our objective is to create a constitutional culture in Utah, whose residents respect and honor one another’s differences. This is especially critical in our current political moment as polarization increases and political attention for the marginalized has amplified.
By using Civil Dialogue and Citizenship, students will…
- Explore the differences between Liberals and Conservatives and begin to consider their own political views.
- Consider friendships across political differences.
- In pairs, participate in an empathy exercise and civil dialogue exercise addressing a topic on which they disagree.
Ways to Use this Lesson Plan
Option 1. Asynchronous Assignment. The lessons are designed for students grades 7 to 12 to use at their own pace. Assign the videos and interactives and ask them to send you written reflections on the discussion questions.
Option 2. Synchronous Exercises. Use a video conferencing platform to gather your students. Watch the videos and interact with the lessons together in real time. Use the discussion questions to engage and assess their learning.
Option 3. Hybrid Experience. Combine both asynchronous and synchronous learning. Start by assigning the videos and interactives as homework. Whether you gather your students in person or via a video conferencing, use the discussion questions to engage and assess their learning.
Option 4. Classroom Experience. Use a large screen in the classroom to show the videos and use the discussion questions to engage them. Demonstrate on the large screen how to use the interactives as part of your in-person learning experience.
Utah Learning Standards
Civic engagement is one of the fundamental purposes of education. The preparation of young people for participation in America’s democratic republic is vital. The progress of our communities, state, nation, and world rests upon the preparation of young people to collaboratively and deliberatively address problems, to defend their own rights and the rights of others, and to balance personal interests with the common good. Social studies classrooms are the ideal locations to foster civic virtue, consider current issues, learn how to act civilly toward others, and build a civic identity and an awareness of global issues. These skills, habits, and qualities of character will prepare students to accept responsibility for preserving and defending their liberties.
To reach these ends, student should have ample opportunities to:
Utah Studies (7th Grade)
- Engage in deliberative, collaborative, and civil dialogue regarding historical and current issues.
- Identify local, state, national, or international problems; engage with solutions to these problems; and share their ideas with appropriate public and/or private stakeholders.
United States History I (8th Grade)
United States History II (High School)
World History (High School)
Same as above, plus:
- Develop and demonstrate the values that sustain America’s democratic republic including open-mindedness, engagement, honesty, problem- solving, responsibility, diligence, resilience, empathy, self-control, and cooperation.
We are grateful for funding from The Foundation for Religious Literacy and Craig and Connie Thatcher Foundation for making this curriculum possible.
Craig and Connie Thatcher Foundation
We are in collaboration with The Foundation for Religious Diplomacy to deepen our civil dialogue methods. The foundation exists to build trust and goodwill between religious, ideological or cultural critics and rivals without requiring consensus or compromise of integrity.
About the Author
Eleesha Tucker, M.A., the Utah 3Rs Project director and history/civics educator, brings ten years of experience designing educational resources for educators. She is known for connecting the history of America’s founding to contemporary audiences. She is based in Utah.