Civil Discourse in an Uncivil World

“We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human.” 

– Hannah Arendt, philosopher

On Nov. 15, just five days after the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), educators from across Indiana gathered virtually for a professional development workshop on the topic of fostering civil discourse in the classroom. 
Facing History and Ourselves, an internationally renowned educational organization, joined the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis and the Jewish Community Relations Council in facilitating these critical conversations. With hate-based ideologies, conspiracy theories and divisive political rhetoric on the rise, JFGI and JCRC understood that educators were on the frontlines of navigating these topics and witnessing the change in discourse amongst students.
This thought process was confirmed by the answers provided in the post-workshop survey. Of the educators who attended the workshop, 69 percent noted an increase in student discussions about political rhetoric followed by 57 percent noting an increase in questions around systemic racism, social justice, and media bias. Almost all educators in attendance (92 percent) noticed a spike in student anxiety over the past year. Using Facing History’s “Fostering Civil Discourse Guide,” educators learned how to deescalate potentially divisive speech through the exploration of real-world conversations. Educators were provided a safe space to wrestle with questions and model how they would apply skills they gleaned during the workshop.
You might be wondering what a workshop about civil discourse has to do with the Holocaust? Research into historical and modern instances of genocide detail how polarization and divisive rhetoric are precursors to violence. It is often said that the Holocaust did not begin with gas chambers. It began with words. The Nazi Party was able to effectively use rhetoric and dehumanizing speech to rally citizens to their cause. Words such as “Untermenschen” (subhuman) and “rats” were repeatedly used to describe Jews. Conspiracy theories were perpetuated, leading to fear and resentment of Jews and others deemed “dangerous.” The same tactics have been occurring today. Training local educators to recognize such speech and address it in a direct, yet civil manner is key to countering hate-based ideologies from propagating in schools and in society at-large. These conversations are not always comfortable for educators, but it is necessary for students to view the classroom as a safe space to ask questions, challenge the world around them, and learn to confront hate. 
If you are an educator who is looking for professional development opportunities, contact Amber Maze or (317) 715-6976.


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