I had the privilege today of participating in the Coffee Talk that opened today’s programming at the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC).
Forgoing keynotes or panel discussions, conference organizers decided to pull together folks from different backgrounds but of similar interests to have conversations and then spread those to the larger group.
When I showed up, I realized today featured a different setup entirely. In an attempt to meet the wants of attendees (it is democratic, after all) organizers had collapsed the different coffe talks into one and then encouraged attendees to take part in a modified fishbowl.
Coffee talkers began in the center of a set of concentric circles. We could say our piece or not and then vacate our seats for attendees to jump in and participate.
It was an altogether difference scenario from that for which I’d prepared myself.
For the first hour, I sat and listened. The larger audience and set of speakers compounded my worries that I wouldn’t have anything to add.
As speakers took turns speaking theire thoughts into the mike, I knew I didn’t have any pronouncement that was necessary to lay upon the layers of declarations that had come before me.
I started listening for a different reason – What questions did these pronouncements raise for me.
In a room of people who spend much of their time considering democratic education, social justice, equity and all that accompany these thoughts, it struck me as a place to deploy questions.
Mine were as follows:
- How do we better understand those who disagree with us – whether on the importance of equity and social justice or on the path to these goals? It strikes me as less than enough to be against those who disagree with us. If there is hope for progress, we must come to a place of understanding. This is not an argument for abandoning our principles and beliefs. Rather, it is a call to ask questions of those who disagree so that they might consider their beliefs more closely through their answers.
- How do we prevent the drive for equity from meaning we are all equally unhappy? Not unlike a toxic relationship, those who speak of privilege and power often do so in a way that makes me think we are struggling to make those who aren’t us feel the unhappiness we have known rather than striving for equal happiness and joy.
- How do we remember adults are not fully formed? Several times during the conference and in general dealings with adults, I’ve noted tones of voice in comments that are less forgiving, less caring, and less empathetic as adults speak to adults than I think those same adult speakers’ voices would hold were they speaking to young people. We’re all unfinished. We are all growing, and we are all imperfect. How do we remember this as we help each other become more perfect?
- What does it take to pause and appreciate the small movements and moments of success as we work toward our ideals? This is tough. The race is difficult and the road is long. Because of this, we often lose track of the milestones we pass. When those with whom we disagree make small concessions, we must learn to pause and appreciate such movement. If not, we’ll lose the patience necessary for moving forward.
If we can consider and craft answers to these questions, I think there will be greater hope of progress in the walk toward more democratic systems of education. Maybe.
Image via m.gifford