Four Ways to Teach Kids the Art of Respectful Disagreement

Will Gilyard, Dean of Students
2016 was the year of name-calling. From the very top, one candidate calls a broad swath of her opposition “deplorables” and the other candidate refers to his competition as a “nasty woman” during a debate. What examples are our children learning as they look to adults to model appropriate behavior when the grown-ups have diverging viewpoints? As the Dean of Students in an independent school, I love that I work in a diverse, eclectic community that shares a variety of political leanings and that is invested and interested in talking about the things that matter. That includes difficult conversations.
The wake of this emotionally charged election served as a learning opportunity in the lost art of civil discourse. I pondered on how I could help my students hold each other to a high standard of respectful and enlightening engagement regardless of their point of view. Part of learning and growing as individuals in our society is to be able to exchange ideas and thoughts (much of which is personal) while accommodating the opinions and perspectives of others.
Here’s my four-point plan for my students to consider while on social media:
1. Critique ideas, not people. Treat each other respectfully even when there are differences in opinion.
2. Actively listen to each other and take turns when discussing ideas. Develop empathy for others and their positions on political matters.
3. Embrace intellectual curiosity. Don’t just believe everything that we think. Search out credible resources on both sides so that you are as informed as possible on these topics and create your own understanding based on information. We cannot engage in meaningful dialogue without, first having seeking to understand both sides of an issue.
4. It is ALWAYS okay to agree to disagree without it devolving into name-calling or disrespectful comments towards each other. REMEMBER THAT YOUR WORDS MATTER!
Too much criticism is counterproductive and creates a negative loop where neither party listens to one another. By keeping these four points in mind our children can learn to develop listening and reasoning skills just as they’ve learned how to solve an equation and develop a thesis statement. It takes time and plenty of practice. And that goes for the adults in the room. We should be lifelong learners, too.
 
 
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Located in West Hartford, CT just steps from Blue Back Square, Kingswood Oxford is a private school inspiring co-ed day students in grades 6-12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Empowered students become clear confident communicators, resourceful problem-solvers, and ethical leaders. KO: where unlimited potential meets endless opportunities.
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