In his 1983 book titled How to Speak, How to Listen, Mortimer Adler wrote the following words, which resonate now more than ever. The Constitution…
…may guarantee that public discussion of public issues goes on unfettered, but it does not and cannot ensure that the discussion is as good as it should be, either by the people’s representatives in Congress or by the people themselves when they assemble for the purpose of political discussion…. Improvement in the quality of public discussion and political debate can be achieved only by improvement in the quality of the schooling that the people as a whole receive. (190-91)
Adler goes on to argue for teaching an improved ability to speak and listen graciously and thoughtfully as a fundamental skill for all citizens. Thirty-four years later, I read this passage as a challenge to us as parents, as educators, and as citizens—who must continue to grow our own skills even as we teach others.
We are addressing this challenge on March 24-25 in Charlotte, North Carolina, when we convene the 2017 National Paideia Conference on the theme of “WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS: Dialogue for Engaged Citizenship.” Make plans now to join us as we think and work together on the quality of our public discussion—for our own and future generations.