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The Death (and Rebirth) of Civil Discourse
Editor's Note

It often feels as if civil discourse has been chipped away and the law of the land has become a demand to agree to my way of thinking or be prepared to receive verbal, physical, cyber, and/or social consequences. The norm has become a challenge for daring to differ from my thinking. We see it on the news every week, we witness it out in public spaces in the community, we might even be victim (or unintentional perpetrator) at a social gathering, and on and on and on. When did we lose control? When did this vehement dislike for differing opinions become acceptable? Professional meetings, trainings, and conversations are frequently filled with these questions. These questions need resolution.

I realized just how disruptive the lack of civility in social media, face-to-face interactions, classrooms and schools, and reporting and news have become when it had a direct physical and emotional impact on my son. He was an average, college new adult who enjoyed his college program and social life. But, he began to have feelings of stress and anxiety and appetite disruptions throughout and following the last presidential election, which was a catalyst for the breach in civility which has so deeply impacted my son's generation and seems to have permanently altered our society.

Thankfully, school librarians can continue to do much to regain or maintain a well-developed, civil society. School library staff are trained to be, and to help others to be, well-informed and well-versed in the pitfalls of misinformation and information manipulation and can be a valued, component to the intentional development of a civil, compassionate community. These critical attributes can be very effective in combating a politically charged climate, such as a presidential election year.

As librarians, we can teach our K-12 student and provide faculty and staff with professional development (PD) opportunities and annotated resource guides for self-paced training. There are many organizations and resources available online to inform your planning and thinking. To help you get started, consider the following resources:

  • If you need to plead your case for the need to host civil discourse PD, share with your administrators this graphic from ProQuest "Fact Sheet: Political Divisiveness in the Classroom." Use it again at the beginning of the PD session to give your audience an understanding of why they are attending and why it matters.

  • Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has developed a 23-page guide, including lesson plans on "Civil Discourse in the Classroom." Through these lessons, students "will be able to turn their unsubstantiated opinions into reasoned arguments. They also will give students 'training wheels' for learning how to have reasoned arguments outside the classroom."

  • American University has a helpful resource "Promoting Civil Discourse in Troubling Times." Although it was developed for the university campus classroom, much can be adapted for the K-12 setting.

  • Microaggressions are sometimes intentional, but often are unintended or unconscious verbal and non-verbal negative messages we send to others. The University of California, Santa Cruz adapted Derald Wing Sue's Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation (Wiley & Sons 2010) to develop a simple, two-page handout, "Tool: Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send" with table of themes, microaggression examples, and the message those phrases or experiences send. Every adult will find themselves somewhere in this chart and can use it to help develop self-awareness in order to make better interaction choices.

  • How can we help teachers handle a controversial topic that emerges in the classroom unexpectedly? Begin preparing for your PD for staff with information from the University of Michigan's Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. They have developed a webpage and resources for "Handling Controversial Topics in Discussion."

About the Author

Leslie B. Preddy, MS, has been the school librarian at Perry Meridian Middle School in Indianapolis, IN, since 1992 and has served as an adjunct professor for Indiana University, Indiana State University, and IUPUI. She has presented webinars and is a frequent speaker and consultant at local, state, national, and international education conferences and events. She has published many articles in professional journals, co-created online resources for educators, and is the author of SSR with Intervention: A School Library Action Research Project, Social Readers: Promoting Reading in the 21st Century, and School Library Makerspaces. Preddy is a recipient of many awards including AASL's Collaborative School Library Media Award and Perry Township Schools Teacher of the Year. She is Past President of the American Association of School Librarians and the Association of Indiana School Library Educators (AISLE). Preddy is a recent recipient of two grants for her school library makerspace from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Indiana State Library.

MLA Citation

Preddy, Leslie B. "The Death (and Rebirth) of Civil Discourse." School Library Connection, February 2020,

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Entry ID: 2234908