About 50 elected officials, civic leaders and journalists spent the past two days discussing civil discourse — and ways to improve Idaho’s political dialogue.
Among the long-range options: working civility lesson plans into the state’s K-12 classrooms.
The group met Monday and Tuesday at Boise State University to take part in an Idaho “Civility Summit,” sponsored by the City Club of Boise, Boise State University’s School of Public Service and the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse.
Let me start with two disclaimers.
First, I am a board member with the City Club — and as chair of the club’s forums committee, I have been involved in organizing a series of events focused on the importance of civility in the public arena.
Second, I was one of the participants, which was off the record. Like many of the journalists at the summit, I admit it was unusual to talk in confidence with a group that included several state legislators, local elected officials and community leaders. But in order to have a candid discussion — and in order to encourage some frank conversations about the relationships between politicians, the media and civic leaders — everyone agreed upfront to an off-the-record discussion.
So, yes, this is an awkward meeting to write about.
But three takeaways are fair game. The group agreed to focus on three civility-related initiatives:
- Expanding the number of nonpartisan, nonprofit city clubs across Idaho. Boise has had a City Club chapter since 1995, and Idaho Falls has a chapter in place. The mission of the City Club is to encourage thoughtful debate of topical issues.
- A “civility pledge,” for elected officials, civic leaders and members of the media.
- Incorporating civility into the K-12 curriculum.
A civility curriculum is much more of a long-term initiative. But there is precedent. Ohio is incorporating a civility unit into its curriculum, to good initial response, said Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. Officials in Kansas, Louisiana and Minnesota are looking at piloting the unit as well.
There will be obstacles to incorporating a civility unit, Lukensmeyer said, especially as schools try to find ways to incorporate it into school requirements. However, she said, the idea reflects foresight.
“Our children are already watching,” she said. “We have to have an antidote for what is already taking hold from a mass media perspective.”