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College Un-Debates for Reaching Consensus

Adapted extracts from an e-mail from Greg Hampikian, PhD (, and from the Clayton College and State University website: (

At Clayton College and State University, "Un-debates" are held, entitled "Conflict and Consensus." For instance, Derek Humphries, the founder of the Hemlock Society, held an Un-Debate with Dr. Gilbert Meilander, theologian and bioethicist. They presented their divergent views on doctor-assisted suicide, and student teams had to suggest points of agreement or common action for them.

The format is as follows: Students are given articles to read about a controversial subject. Two invited speakers who represent opposing views on the issue are given 30 minutes each to present their side of the issue. Students are organized into groups assigned to one speaker or the other. During a 20 minute break-out session they list as many points as they can which might be attributed to each speaker. They also generate a list of possible points of agreement or consensus to propose to the opposing group. The speakers work with their groups during this time to answer questions.

Opposing groups then pair into exploratory teams for 15 minutes of brainstorming and negotiation. They assemble for their spokesperson a list of suggested actions on which consensus might be reached. The speakers return to the rostrum and each responds to the groups' suggestions. Final comments by each speaker address items of consensus and suggest where progress might be made (five minutes each). General questions and answers follow, if time permits, and responses to the format.

A pillar of the democratic process is that conflicting views are reconciled through debate and compromise. The skills required to find consensus and resolve conflicts are central to leadership and the legislative process. This program is designed as an exercise in conflict resolution and consensus building. It is, in a sense, an anti-debate. Whereas opponents in a debate seek to conquer and triumph, in a Conflict and Consensus exercise conflicting viewpoints are examined to find agreement or compromise. The format for these exercises places students in the commanding role as instigators of resolution while at the same time encouraging them to examine and test divergent views.

Reported in Global Ideas Bank.

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Senior Citizens Serve as Writing Mentors via E-mail

Carol Maurer reported this idea on The American News Service web page:

Unable to give his students the individual attention they desperately needed on their writing, teacher Joe Greenwald and his colleagues in Hinesburg, Vermont, came up with the ideas to call on retirees to coach students -- by e-mail.

The e-mail connections began with a $3,000 grant from the telephone company. Maurer reports: "The juniors and seniors in Greenwald's class weren't exactly in a rush to hook up with the elders. Teenagers were skeptical about dealing with 'the old codgers.' To help bridge the generational divide, Greenwald took his students to Wake Robin Life Care Community in Shelburne, Vt., where the elderly volunteers reside. 'The students ignored me, paired up with the elders in corners of the room, and talked and talked. The only difficulty that day was getting my students back to school,' he said."

Three years later, each student in Greenwald's Applied English class is matched with a Wake Robin resident. Other teachers at the school have started their own student-elder partnerships.

Although both students and mentors praise the program, things didn't always run smoothly. At times the advisors were discouraged by students' rudeness, unreturned phone calls and failure to follow through on assignments. In addition, both advisors and students experienced some difficulty using the computer. Also, advisors at times lacked confidence in their own understanding of writing, especially grammar and punctuation issues. Greenwald advised them to focus on one central issue: "what are you trying to say?"

Despite problems, the program is seen as highly successful, and efforts like this not only help students but provide meaningful interaction between the experienced writers of the community and those struggling to learn. The power of e-mail opens a whole new realm of possibilities.

COPYRIGHT 2000 THE AMERICAN NEWS SERVICE. Permission is granted to republish, reproduce or transmit American News Service articles under two conditions: (1) you are a media subscriber to The American News Service and (2) the material must be clearly identified by the words "The American News Service."

check mark P's and Q's Served with Your Peas and Cucumbers

An elementary principal in Omaha decided it was high time children learned a few formal manners. Each week 15 pupils skip the cafeteria lunch to dine with Principal Mary Drew. They learn which way to pass the food, waiting till everyone is seated before stabbing the cantaloup, which spoon to grab, and so on. By the end of the year, all the students cycle through Eating with Etiquette
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Speaking Circles

Lee Glickstein has launched a movement called Speaking Circles to help people practice their speaking skills. The essence of a Speaking Circle is that the speaker talks for five minutes to a small group (no larger than ten). Audience members give only positive feedback afterwards, thus creating a feeling of safety and gradually repairing any damage previous bad experiences speaking may have caused. For more information and a personal example from a group who tried it, click here.