In the series of Socrates Cafes I had the privilege to hold in Gainesville, FL, this past week, the focus of those who invited me was on education, teaching, learning. To that end, the questions we explored in a Socratic way over the course of the day were:  “What should we teach our children?”

There were many thoughtful responses from young and old alike, some beautiful snippets of which I captured on video and posted on Facebook and Youtube.

At various junctures in our give-and-takes, participants of many stripes said something to this effect:   “What we’re doing, right here right now, must be a part of has to be part of any meaningful education and learning experience”

The resounding consensus among those on hand was that inquiry of a rigorous, empathic, discursive, boundary-breaking kind — in which there is never a final answer, but in which answers lead to a whole host of new and bracing questions — had to be part and parcel of any kind of learning experience that led to human growth and development at any age and stage of life.

Inquiry via a method and ethos that connects those who tend to be disconnected from one another, and even quite often from themselves.

Inquiry in which partisanship or nonpartisanship is beside the point — and so this is not, like the preponderance of dialogue and deliberation initiatives (whether overly admitted or not), of a left-leaning sort.

Rather, ours are inquiry and exploration initiatives in which all are leaning in, in which all feel valued, in which equal consideration is given to any and every perspective by subjecting them to rigorous scrutiny, looking at what speaks for and against any given way of seeing things.  [Perhaps you’ve attended other kinds of dialogues that claim to feature a method, but in truth feature protocols (like talking keys and sticks, if you can believe it), and have no real method or ethos at all].

Inquiry that demands incredible listening. Inquiry that unsettles, impassions, exhilarates, opens new portals for self and societal sculpting.

Inquiry that shuns soul-killing debate, rhetoric persuasion, and supplants it with exploration, interrogation, inquiry, storytelling.

Inquiry, in other words, via the ‘Socrates Cafe method.’

What the needs now, I assert (and will do so til my last breath, to put it melodramatically), are human encounters in which the young and old, rich and poor, formally and informally educated, can gather together and reveal to one another their unique stores of wisdom based on their unique experiences.

Socrates Cafes and Philosophers’ Clubs and all our other dialogue initiatives that spring from the Socrates Cafe method make it possible for anyone of most any age to be an integral of the inquiry (indeed, the youngest participants tend to latch on to it far more readily than us older folks, and they keep us on our toes, framing in bracing new ways, listening, inquiring, exploring with all their hearts and minds).

I started Socrates Cafe all the way back in the fall of 1996, when Bill Clinton was undergoing impeachment proceedings — as divided as we were then, we’re even more polarized now, it seems. But out of such predicaments spring opportunities.

Devoted ‘childer’ that I am, I believe children and youth can help show us the way out of this morass. And so I kept gently turning around our questions to explore from this kind of vantage point: “What can and perhaps should our children teach us?”

After just a tad of initial hesitation, the responses came fast and furious, and some were breathtaking — like, our youngest often can teach how to cherish imagination, how to learn to live in peace, how to always take them into account when we have momentous decisions to make that impact them.

Once you can get us older folks into the frame of mind to engage in a form of ‘appreciative inquiry’ about our youngest, their eyes light up — like children.

Do you skeptics, I pose this: What (if anything) do we have to lose by taking our children’s views into equal account, even giving them equal right to participate in the civic sphere?

 

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