Houston’s Furr High School Wins $10 Million XQ Grant

Does civility matter? Yes it does.

In 2001, Dr. Bertie Simmons came out of retirement to become the principal of Houston’s Furr High school when no one else wanted to take the reigns. Six years later, concerned that gangs were ready to take over the school, Simmons called on us at the Institute and asked if we would take some of her students to Washington D.C. It might help, she thought, for them to learn about politics, and citizenship, and investment in public service.

We did, and we became one part of a series of events that changed students’ lives. In 2001, the school was dangerous. In 2007, it was only beginning to turn around. When we first walked into Furr High School, we were greeted with a physical altercation between a teacher and a student – with shoving, and yelling in the halls.

Today, walking down those same halls, the change is palpable. The students know that we are the folks who take groups to Washington D.C. But we aren’t the only ones who are treated with respect. Respect is the rule rather than the exception. And respect has led Furr High School to win a major award.

So what happened? Civility did.

Civility has been a theme threaded through Furr’s curriculum for years now. From their teachers in their classes, and every time we take a group to Washington D.C., students learn to claim their needs and listen past difference, to build consensus and even to speak with their elected representatives. Civility has become such a watchword at Furr that students now plan an annual “Civility in the Part” celebration at Herman Brown Park Pavilion.

You need only look at this short video to see what a dramatic effect civility has had on Furr High School.

The change is nothing if not a cause to celebrate building civility one person at a time, one community at a time, and one nation at a time. And with all our hearts, we would like to congratulate the students and teachers at Furr High School on winning the XQ: The Super School Project grant, which will bring $10 million over the next five years to reinvent what a high school can do.

Civility Linkblogging: Pushing on the Limits of Civility

Civility LinkbloggingCivility Linkblogging is an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This installment offers two compelling arguments that the governing force behind our discourse need not be civility, and one discussion of why it absolutely must be. In The Des Moines Register and in Commentary Magazine, we are reminded that other values like free speech and conviction must always be weighed as well. While in The Irish Times, we are reminded that even in those circumstances we must recall that those who hold beliefs that are different from our own usually do so honestly and without malice.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Civility in Government
Posted by David Rosenof at Sun-Sentinel.com, April 28, 2016

The foundation for this model starts in our schools, where students should be required to take civics to prepare them to become knowledgeable and engaged citizens. Civics classes, however, have been pushed aside over recent years, and the result is that less and less students even know the three branches of government. If we are going to achieve our desired civility in government, our young people must learn American history, know how our political system works, understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens and the importance of community engagement.

Along with teaching how our government functions is the obligation of educators to instill autonomous critical thinking and debate skills. In order to become responsible citizens, our young people must become adept at using debate skills as a tool to communicate.

On Campus, Civility and First Amendment in Conflict
Posted at The Des Moines Register, May 2, 2016

Enough bad feelings had come to a head that some 200 people felt a need to gather at the University of Northern Iowa on a November night to talk. The topic was diversity.

The catalyst was the kind of language students were hearing around campus.

Encounters like that on campuses across the country are prompting an examination of whether limits on speech and expression should exist at a college or university.

It’s a controversial topic, raising this sticky question: If limits should exist, where should they be placed?

Leaders Laugh but Should also Fight
Posted by Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary Magazine, May 3, 2016

There is, of course, nothing wrong with Boehner being a good sport and playing a role in Obama’s video. But in recent years the complaint that Obama and Boehner should have learned from the example of President Ronald Reagan and his generally friendly adversary House Speaker Tip O’Neill is a bit misleading.

It’s true that the ability of the pair to relax and share a joke and a drink didn’t harm their working relationship. But if deals were made during that administration it wasn’t primarily because the two knew how to be civil. It was because both were able to agree on legislation that they viewed as in the common interest.

Coping: How to Argue with Civility, the Thomas Jefferson Way
Posted by Laura Kennedy at The Irish Times, May 11, 2016

We all encounter this: people associating their own view with being moral or good, and an opposing one as inherently bad or damaging. To point this out in conversation is a way of shutting down discourse; to suggest that a perspective is in itself bad without querying the reasons behind it is to refuse the opportunity to test your own view, or to learn whether and why you are wrong.

If a person holds a view that I don’t agree with, even one that could limit my freedom, such as the view that abortion is never acceptable, it isn’t because they have bad intentions or are some sort of degenerate. They have come to a different conclusion on the issue. Only through rational discourse can we hope to have a thorough debate.

Former Social Secretaries from Bush, Obama Administrations Writing Book on Civility
Posted by Emily Heil at The Washington Post, May 11, 2016

“The White House is of course a very political environment,” Berman says. “But everyone, no matter what, does their best work when they come from a place of mutual respect, and that might be getting lost in American culture.”

At first the pair considered writing a straightforward entertaining guide, but they soon realized that that is a crowded market — and that deeper issues were at play. The first-time authors describe the project not as a guide to proper pinkie placement, but rather a how-to on human interactions peppered with anecdotes — both positive examples and cautionary tales — from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “People are so interested in the White House,” Bernard says. “And everything is magnified there … but the issues are applicable wherever you are, from Walmart to a law firm.”

Civility Linkblogging: Faith Leaders and Civil Politics

Civility LinkbloggingCivility Linkblogging is an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This month brings us a selection of (mostly) religious voices, from all ends of the political spectrum, calling for civility, tolerance, and kindness. This includes a Unitarian Universalist minister drawing a distinction between debate with the goal of better understanding, and debate with the lesser goal of winning. It includes a Mormon commentator examining civility as a trans-religious value that strengthens society. It includes a Methodist minister reflecting on the value of political correctness. And it includes a Baptist asking us to move beyond civility — to embrace kindness as an active strategy against sin.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

Bring Civility to the Debate Process
Posted by Julia Corbett-Hemeyer at The Star Press, March 5, 2016

There is nothing wrong with candidates throwing themselves passionately into the topic at hand. The situations the United States faces at home and abroad are certainly complicated enough that sincere, reasonable and good-hearted women and men will disagree on the best courses of action. The complexity of the world in which political decisions must be made guarantees that, in addition to good decisions, mistakes will inevitably be made. There will be ample cause to challenge the choices and judgments of one’s predecessors and those on the other side of the political party aisle.

We are not at our best, however, when we are sniping at each other and engaging in personal attacks in the name of debate. We are not at our best when name calling and innuendo cloud our discussion of the issues and of what’s good for the country. We are not at our best when we engage in debate with the goal of “winning” and assuring that our “opponents” are defeated.

Civility is Essential to Strong Societies
Posted by Kristine Frederickson at Desert News, March 6, 2016

The definition itself teaches us the consequences of incivility: When we are uncivil, we become harsh, unmerciful, uncaring, poorly performing citizens who, inevitably, will engage in disorderly behavior. We do not need to look far to see this occurring all around us — road rage, physical altercations, physical attacks, and verbal and physical abuse are evident everywhere.

Incivility has the capacity to destroy strong, unified and healthy societies. The reverse is true — harmonious, courteous, safe and civil communities persist by exhibiting respectful, kind and concerned human interaction.

We Need Civility in Politics Because The Kids ARE Watching
Posted at The Times of San Diego, March 7, 2016

Perhaps we can’t stop the escalating behavior and rhetoric in the political landscape, but we can provide students with an understanding of our how our government works best, how to critically assess the 2016 primaries, and how the respective candidates’ ideas, styles and capacity for collaboration might affect our democracy.

In this election year, the anger, distrust and contentiousness of the people toward government have gotten our attention. What hasn’t been talked about so much is how this mood affects those who will inherit the future: our youth. Will the unintended consequences of this toxic election year move our nation into an era of even further division and fragmentation? Or will we find the will to show the next generation how to live effectively in a diverse and eclectic world with others of differing opinions?How we answer this question for our children may well shape the America we leave them even more than the actual election outcome.

Political Correctness is Correct
Posted by Doug Fairbanks at TimesFreePress.com, March 19, 2016

So this brings me to the correctness of political correctness. In my opinion, political correctness is just one attempt to help all of us be more aware of the value and worth of every human being. We only need to access any form of news media to discover that our world and our society have not risen to that high calling. And, though political correctness can make us feel a bit uncomfortable at times, better that than becoming so complacent in regards to human relationships that we become numb to treating each other with mutual respect.

As a child, I learned to sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” As a Christian, I am reminded that my main goal is to love as God loves. As a human being, I am aware that I fail at that more often than I care to admit. But at least the awareness of the truth bothers me enough that I keep on trying to imitate God’s extravagant love.

Again, political correctness is at least a feeble attempt to be like a burr under the saddle of our human psyche, reminding us that all is not well in human relationships and we need to keep trying to make it better. Indeed, we need to keep trying to make it much better. And I say better that we continue to be disturbed in this regard than just write off the correctness of political correctness.

We Need More Than Civility; We Need Kindness
Posted by Russell D. Moore at Pastors.com, March 19, 2016

When we don’t oppose demons, we demonize opponents. And without a clear vision of the concrete forces we as the church are supposed to be aligned against, we find it very difficult to differentiate between enemy combatants and their hostages.

The Scriptures command us to be gentle and kind to unbelievers, not because we are not at war, but because we’re not at war with them (2 Tim. 2:26). When we see that we are warring against principalities and powers in the heavenly places, we can see that we’re not wrestling against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). The path to peace isn’t through bellicosity or surrender, but through fighting the right war (Rom. 16:20). We rage against the Reptile, not against his prey.

We hear many calls, from across the religious and political spectrum, for civility. But civility is not enough. Civility is a neutral ground, a sort of mutual non-aggression pact, where we agree to respect one another and not to belittle one another. That’s important, and a good start, but that’s not enough. Just as we are not for “toleration” of those who religiously disagree with us but for “liberty,” so we should not be for mere civility, but for, from our end, kindness. Civility is passive; kindness is active and strategic.

Reflecting on Civility on Our Eighteenth Anniversary

On April Fool’s Day of 1998, we launched the Institute for Civility in Government by walking the halls of Congress and introducing ourselves and the newly-formed organization we had been planning since the previous fall. We were met with laughter, puzzlement, bemusement, confusion, politeness, and in some offices – real interest. While some people who knew us and had been to Washington, D.C. with us immediately jumped on board with their membership and support, most people – both in D.C. and back home – wondered why we were concerned about civility. Some even asked us what the word meant.

Eighteen years later, people no longer wonder why we are concerned. Civility is one of those things that we tend to take for granted until we no longer have it. It is one of those things that we assume is just the norm until it isn’t. And then, faced with its opposite, we realize that civility is the all-essential glue that holds a diverse society together. It is the grease that keeps daily interactions moving forward and makes life in community possible. In the realm of government, it is what makes problem-solving possible. And we have some big problems to solve.

Since our launch, some things have changed. A 2016 poll by Weber Shandwick indicates that people have a greater awareness than ever of civility’s importance. 95% of participants now believe that its absence is a problem in the United States, compared with only 65% in 2010, when they first did the survey. Fully 70% now say that incivility in this country has risen to “crisis” levels, up from 65% in 2014. Increasingly, lack of civility in the United States has become a source of concern for people. And increasingly, according to the poll, people are ready to do something about it.

But some things have also remained the same. We still define civility for folks, and a lot of people have found our definition to be helpful. For us, civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs, and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process. That is the definition that Tomas Spath and I came up with years ago, and it is still the one we and all the members of the Institute stand by today. It does not say we have to agree with one another. In fact it celebrates differences and tells us we should claim them. Differences are enriching. But they are also difficult. And our definition encourages us to focus on why we hold our positions, and on the strength of our beliefs, rather than demonizing those who think and believe differently.

But then as now, a definition – even a popular one – is not enough. Although there is an increased awareness of the importance of civility and a growing concern about its absence, people must take the next step. They must be willing to believe they can make a difference and turn this cultural drift around. They must believe that voices joined are voices heard, and that investments in teaching our youth civility today will pay off in a more civil nation tomorrow. Then as now, we must educate people about the Institute’s existence, and convince them to join.

Since we launched the Institute, a devoted group of Americans – and people from around the world – have joined our cause, and many more have made donations to support it. People have participated in our programs and shared our educational materials, and through that we have built a strong foundation for a movement. This week, on our eighteenth anniversary, is the time for you to add your voice to ours and become a member of the Institute for Civility in Government. It is no small thing, and though you might not see it today, it will make a big difference.

Sincerely,

Cassandra Dahnke & Tomas Spath
Co-Founders, Institute for Civility in Government

Civility Linkblogging: Town Halls, Debates, Iowa, and Indiana

Civility LinkbloggingThis post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This month, with the Presidential primary season well underway, the news is moving particularly quickly. But despite that — or perhaps because of it — it seems particularly important to pause and consider the civility implictions of all that is happening, even after the fact. In this edition, therefore, we have discussions that touch on prior primary debates and townhalls, some reflection on the Iowa caucus, and a discussion of how any of the candidates should act if they should win the office.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

Senators Laud Civility Counts For Improving Public Dialogue
Posted by Dan Carden at NWITimes.com, January 26, 2016

Chuck Hughes said civility is needed now more than ever in households, workplaces, schools and basically everywhere people gather.

He said it’s easy to be civil; all it takes is being mindful of what you say, what you do and how you act toward your family, friends, neighbors and strangers.

“It costs nothing, you don’t have to join anything, there’s no initiation, there’s no fee,” Hughes said. “It’s simply what is expected of us.”

That civility message appears to be resonating throughout the Statehouse during the 2016 legislative session.

Focusing on What Really Matters
Posted by Carolyn Lukensmeyer at The Huffington Post, January 26, 2016

Regardless of whether a republican, a democrat or an independent becomes our next president, they will face a divided country and an even more divided Congress, and the only way they – and therefore we, as a country – will be successful is to work together. Disagreements are going to happen – it is simply a fact of life. But the bigger issue is having someone at the table who is willing to listen to all sides and to find a solution that works.

The president needs to be able to work with Congress – both House and Senate and democrats as well as republicans. He or she also needs to be able to work with fifty governors who have issues and concerns that impact the federal government. At the end of the day the man or woman who succeeds President Barack Obama will need to work with people with differing viewpoints across the US, not to mention the world. And that means having the ability to listen, reason and problem solve for the greater good.

Democrats Model Political Civility in Iowa Town Hall
Posted by Jules Witcover at NewsOK.com, January 27, 2016

The approaching Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary eight days later may well prolong the Clinton-Sanders competition well into the state contests in the South that her campaign has touted as a firewall for her formerly presumed coronation as the Democratic nominee.

If so, it’s to be hoped that the civility of the Drake University town hall, and its substantive content, will continue to be the pattern.

Let’s Hope For Civility in Elections — Local and Beyond
Posted by Jeffrey Jackson at Owatonna.com, January 27, 2016

There is little doubt that there is a frustrated electorate here in Steele County as well. We’ve seen in past elections, including the most recent school bond referendum in Owatonna, as well as in the letters to the editors those elections have generated. And we fully expect that some of that frustration will be voiced by voters this election cycle.

That being said, we seriously doubt that the candidates who have thrown or will throw their hats in the electoral ring, either for re-election or to oppose an incumbent, will play upon that frustration or embrace the mantle of anger that national seem so willing to do. If past elections here are any indication, then this upcoming local election cycle will be one marked by civility.

And why? Because the ladies and gentlemen running for office are more than just opponents in an election. They are also fellow citizens, neighbors and in some cases, friends. That kind of connection breeds civility.

Iowa Caucus 2016: Six Ways to Show Civility
Posted by Jay Byers, and others at The Des Moines Register, February 1, 2016

Remember that everyone has a different life experience and therefore a different lens through which to see the world. We believe that influencing others and moving conversations around critical issues forward in meaningful ways requires respect for others.

Freedom of speech is an indispensable American value, and we have an incredible opportunity to use our freedom of speech to affect the future. Here in Iowa, we are privileged to have many opportunities to meet presidential candidates and surrogates, and to be at the heart of political discourse. As the four civic organizations that comprise the Show Some Respect campaign, we encourage Iowans to be civil. Let’s show the world more of that “Iowa nice.” Hopefully others, including the candidates, will follow our lead.

Here are six ways to demonstrate civility during election season.

A Note On the Passing of Justice Antonin Scalia

Opposites attract they say. And having an opposite also pushes us to better understand our own positions.

That’s the truth for us as the two co-founders of the Institute. We initially believed we were supporters of the same political party. We were wrong. The day we realized that we thought differently is the day we began to conceive of an Institute for Civility in Government. And in the friendship between Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, we cannot help but see ourselves.

They vacationed together, they debated together, and they worked together on the Supreme Court, all while respecting each other’s point of view. The two of us, Cassandra and Thomas, have also worked together, debated together, and vacationed together. And yet we think very differently from one another when it comes to politics, philosophy, and a lot of other things, too.

It’s these differences that have helped us understand our positions and ourselves better. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg says of Scalia:

We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh.

Isn’t it a shame that the immediate and constant attention of our country is focused on the rancor about how Justice Scalia will be replaced on the Court rather than first celebrating his life, mourning with his family, and laying him to rest? The civility that we try to promote is a force that would allow us to set aside political turmoil, at least long enough to stop and give thanks for the man’s public service.

We as a nation should rise to this occasion and take the time to reflect on Justice Scalia’s important contributions to American public life and on his loss as a fellow human being. We must consider how to fill is seat, but we stumble when we rush to focus on politics and partisan dispute without due time or due respect.

The Institute for Civility in Government does not endorse anyone, does not support any particular position. But we believe in the value of deliberation and the celebration of a life, and in seeking to learn from each other rather than lambasting others for who they are or what they believe. That is how we help each other be better. That is how we make the country better.

Justice Scalia’s passing, and Justice Ginsburg’s heartfelt words, should be a reminder. Not only do we all gain when we try to get along. We benefit most of all by having friends who do not think like us, who challenge us, and who enrich our own understanding of life.

— Thomas Spath and Cassandra Dahnke, Institute Co-Founders

Our Thoughts are with Paris

The highest goal of civility is to prevent violence. The goal, by cultivating a willingness to listen across divisions of ideology and identity, is to create the channels of communication that allow us to live together in relative peace.

In Paris, yesterday, that civility and peace failed profoundly. More than one hundred twenty people died, and more than three hundred people were injured, in attacks that targeted six sites across the city including a concert venue and a soccer field.

Paris Peace
Viral, attributed to @jean_jullien

There is time for analysis of the rhetoric and the events that surround this terrible tragedy. But the present is for grief, and for we who are far away to extend a hand of sympathy and support to those affected by the violence.

Today we all stand with Paris.

The Importance of Congressional Student Forums

U.S. Capitol, 1859: Congressional Student Forum
Elevation of dome of U.S. Capitol, 1859

A message from Institute for Civility in Government co-founder, Cassandra Dahnke.

Some people think it never happens. They think that Republicans and Democrats cannot work together, or even have a civil conversation. But those people are mistaken. It does happen – and could happen more if more people would speak out for civility.

For years the Institute for Civility in Government has sponsored Congressional Student Forums. These bring two members of Congress from opposite sides of the political aisle together on college campuses around the country in order to model civil and respectful conversations with students and faculty on whatever issues the students bring to the table. The conversations are lively and informative. And they are critically important to our civic process.

Congressional Student Forums set an important precedent for students’ future civic involvement – they set a high standard for citizen empowerment and participation, and a high standard for civility and respect. But they are important, too, for building collegial relationships among members of Congress who have far too few opportunities to spend time together, sharing ideas rather than beating each other up with them.

Historically, the Institute has been able — at best — to host only one Congressional Student Forum per semester. This is in part because university schedules are highly complicated, and in part because members of Congress are very busy. But making the time for these events is not impossible. And when it all comes together, the experience is an exceptional one for all involved.

This spring, the Institute has scheduled not one, but three Congressional Student Forums: at Lone Star College, North Harris (Houston) with Representatives Kevin Brady and Gene Green; at the University of Missouri, Kansas City with Representatives Emanuel Cleaver and Kevin Yoder; and at University of Texas, San Antonio with Representatives Henry Cuellar and Lamar Smith.

Why the increased success? It is because these members of Congress have made it a priority to make it happen. They worked to make it happen. They wanted it. And they accomplished it.

And more members of Congress might, too, if they knew that their constituents wanted them to participate in events like this: events that are bipartisan and civil, that are not debates, not contents to see who wins and who loses — but opportunities to share different ideas and philosophies so that we can all consider them more carefully.

It is in events like these where conversation is created and new ideas and relationships are born.

Our vision is to grow interest in civility and membership in the Institute large enough to shift the culture — so that one day, when members of Congress are elected, they make scheduling Congressional Student Forums a priority, not an afterthought. Can you imagine what a difference that would make in our political discourse? Our communities? Our nation?

It can happen. But it needs your support. Tell your member of Congress that you care about civility. Join the Institute today. Keep the movement growing.

Nelson Mandela’s Legacy of Civility

Nelson Mandela, Voting in 1994
Nelson Mandela voting in 1994, in South Africa’s first multi-racial election. Photo by Paul Weinberg, via Wikimedia Commons.

All too often we underestimate the power and virtue of civility. You just want us all to be nice, folks say – as if there is anything wrong with that. But civility is about so much more than manners or mood. It is about so much more than politeness or political correctness. Civility is about intentionality and hard work.

It takes intentionality and hard work to choose courses of action that are difficult and often unpopular. It takes intentionality and hard work to put the common good above personal agenda, anger, frustration, greed, or fatigue.

Civility’s payoff, however, is huge. And there is no better example than Nelson Mandela.

A hero in life, the choices Nelson Mandela made and the leadership he displayed helped achieve a peace and a future for South Africa that no one had ever even dared to dream, much less act upon. His example and legacy sets the standard for statesmanship and selflessness.

How tragic if we only admire him, and do not follow his example.

Among the Quotes of the Month the Institute has sent out to our members over the years are several from Nelson Mandela.

Go and speak to your enemies. (But know that) you cannot change someone else unless you first change yourself….

I am not a saint, unless you define a saint as (being) a sinner who keeps on trying.

Over and over Mandela encouraged the rest of us to believe that we can make the same kind of choices that he did, with results that would be just as magnificent. He never pretended that those choices would be easy – only that they are essential.

It always seems impossible, until it is done.

If we would honor the man with more than words, we will work for a culture of mutual respect and cooperative effort rather than one of polarization and personal gain. The stakes are high. The choice is ours. Join us.

— Tomas Spath and Cassandra Dahnke, Institute co-founders