The goal of this course is to help students develop concepts, tools, dispositions and skills that will help them engage productively in the ongoing experiment of American democracy. This nation’s founders created a governmental structure that sets up an ongoing and expansive conversation about how to manage the tensions and tradeoffs between competing values and notions of the public good. Many (not all, but many) of these values are valid and can’t be wholly discarded without doing damage to our understanding and practice of
So, these tensions can never be fully resolved or eliminated; they are intrinsic to the American experiment. Every generation must struggle to find its own balance, in no small part because in every era people who previously had been unjustly excluded from the conversation find a way to be heard. That inevitably introduces new values and changes how enduring ones get interpreted.
Over time, Americans have varied in their capacity to conduct this conversation productively. The challenge of each generation is to develop that capacity to its fullest. The goal of this course is to equip you to engage fully in your generation’s renewal of the conversation. Civil dialogue is one of the most misconstrued terms in contemporary political discourse. It is an aspiration, a theory and a practice, and we’ll explore all three of these attributes of civil dialogue in this course, including:
- The history of civility in American politics, including the fact that this republic has never
experienced a “golden age of civility.”
- The philosophical roots of the modern practices of civil dialogue and the contemporary
critiques of civility as a goal of discourse.
- The approaches, practices and techniques of civil dialogue: ways to frame issues, self–‐
examine biases, convene a diverse group, and guide a dialogue to a productive result.