Monday, October 15, 2018

Deliberation: It Unlocks the Conversation

Street Law’s New Perspectives Program is well underway in Washington, Omaha, and Denver area classrooms. Since being trained over the summer, several teachers have already conducted their first deliberations, some in the classroom and some involving both students and community members.

Rob Dittmer, a New Perspectives fellow from the Omaha metropolitan region, conducted his first deliberation on the question: Should violent juvenile offenders be punished as adults? Rob said of the process, “It was probably the most engaged this group has been from start to finish for any lesson all year. Kids also commented afterward that they enjoyed it.”

Dr. Sara Romeyn, a New Perspectives fellow from Maryland, conducted a community deliberation with faculty and students from her school. One teacher who participated in the deliberation reflected, “This was twelve people talking about this topic in a non-hostile way. We were truly listening to the other side to get an understanding of what’s being said. This process set us in the mindset of listening to others’ points.” A student participant said after the deliberation, “There’s different goals between this and a debate. Winning doesn’t resolve the issue. In a deliberation you’re meeting in the middle. That’s how change happens. Deliberation should always be the approach when you don’t agree with someone.”

Kelly Wagy-Jones, of Denver, is planning her first community deliberation on the question: Should our state ban or allow hydraulic fracturing (or fracking)? This work is especially timely as the November election approaches; Colorado has a ballot initiative about fracking. Of her classroom deliberations, Kelly has said, “My students have thoroughly enjoyed the deliberation process. Originally, they were concerned about the process, that they would not be able to express their own opinion. After their first deliberation, they felt that they were able to not only express their opinion, but they were able to understand other perspectives in order to truly understand why it is considered controversial.”

If you’d like to learn more about New Perspectives and Street Law’s work with deliberative discussions, Jen Wheeler will be presenting at the Maryland Council for the Social Studies Conference in Columbia, MD, on October 19, and at the National Social Studies Supervisors Association meeting in Chicago on November 29.

Updated deliberation materials will be widely released on the Street Law website in early summer 2019.

For more information, contact Jen Wheeler.