Listening to heal our country: op/ed at the Dallas Morning News

September 9, 2019

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Jill DeTemple, faculty member at Southern Methodist University and academic associate for Essential Partners, writes about the power of listening to heal the nation's polarized divides at the Dallas Morning News. She writes:

"Students and faculty who may be afraid to broach controversial issues for fear of a classroom blow-up can engage those issues and each other. It turns out that teaching students to listen better — with intention, curiosity and resilience — roots them in a sense of community and shared purpose.

Survey data of students involved in dialogic classrooms — where faculty were trained in reflective structured dialogue and then did a minimum of three dialogic exercises over the course of a semester — shows more than 50% of students reported improved willingness to speak. Some 74% reported better comprehension of course material. More than 80% reported an increased or greater sense of belonging. Written responses show that students feel they can use these skills outside of the classroom, and faculty report using dialogic approaches to address difficult topics, such as the October 2018 synagogue shooting in Philadelphia.

Students also report a greater resiliency and comfort when listening to viewpoints that differ from their own, something I have witnessed as my students discussed guns in American society, the death penalty, homosexuality in religious contexts, and government roles in human reproduction. They certainly don't agree about these things, but given the right structure, they can speak and listen. Nothing blows up."

Read our interview with Jill DeTemple about dialogue in the classroom.

Interested in leading more open, inclusive, civil classroom and campus discussions? Want to foster trust, understanding and connection across polarized differences of values, views, and identities? Find out more about using EP's approach in higher education.

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