Just before winter break, an eighth grade class in the School for Children engaged in two very lively and substantive conversations, via Skype, with an eighth grade class in Madison, Virginia, a small, rural town on the edge of Shenandoah National Park. The question guiding this initiative was: How do we create conversations that bridge the chasms that we’re currently grappling with as a nation?
Framing these two conversations were the students’ editorials, addressing a range of issues, including gun rights, immigration, kneeling during the national anthem, freedom of expression, the Supreme Court Masterpiece Cake Shop case, police brutality, comprehensive sex education, and the legalization of marijuana.
More powerful than the actual exchange of ideas was the way in which the students communicate with one another. They listened intently, pushed back respectfully, laughed often, and acknowledged that the differences in their opinions need not define what is possible between them. Indeed, both sets of students expressed curiosity in each other, with the Madison students sharing that most of them live 20 to 30 miles from school, few of them have Internet access at home, and all of them have held a rifle and hunt with their families.
The two classes are looking forward to continuing the dialogue in the coming months.