Thursday, July 6, 2017

Vanishing Opportunities to Learn Conflict Transformation Skills Kids Without Adult Supervision

Senator Sasse wrote a serious book, The Vanishing American Adult, covering a lot of ground…and it is worth reading for at least three reasons (despite the fact that he is, in my view, unfairly critical of public education in America).

Reading this story is like taking a cross-cultural journey. Sasse’s book serves as a window into the concerns and interests underlying a wide range of political positions frequently taken by those with alternative or competing perspectives on politics, positions I often find difficult to understand.

It is critically important for all of us to hear, from those who actually hold opposing views directly, the thinking and feeling and caring and valuing behind otherwise thin and easily dismissed competing positions. Sasse includes the importance of travel in his remedies and reading his book provides one way for someone like me to invest in democracy by taking the important trip he leads readers on.

Reading this story first allows me to hear from a thoughtful parent and then to more clearly see connections between family values and political priorities. Sasse’s book stands as a candid articulation of how one thoughtful father thinks about raising children today. While the story is impossible to separate from politics, it can be read as first a father’s story about parenting in one family and secondarily about the political commitments and positions that are associated with the values and priorities identified in that father’s story.

The margins of my copy are filled with comments, mostly in disagreement, sometimes in frustration because he seemed to be willfully overlooking factors with more explanatory value because doing so would push him toward solutions inconsistent with his ideology. But I also came away with a respect for his combination of candor and open-mindedness (he often defended his position with reference to thinkers on the other side of the aisle making a related argument).

Reading this story is an important invitation to dialogue. Sasse’s book is provided as self-conscious effort to speak from the heart but in a way that recognizes deliberation and the sharing the goal of achieving agreements (even as we continue to disagree) are prime directives in any prosperous democratic society.

Over and over again, Sasse pulls back and says ‘as you read this I am sure you are imagining policies unlike those I might support, but let’s first come to a basic agreement on the questions and problems before we fall into those all-too-familiar and crippling trenches.’ Every time (and more) when he says this, he is right about this reader.

I agree that we need to come to an agreement on the most important questions and problems, the dimensions of each, and the best available data for analyzing them. He and I anticipate disagreement on potential remedies, but compromise and progress remain more likely if we can accept his invitation to join him at a democratic starting point.

I am considering using this book in my Social Entrepreneurship class. I like using authors who disagree with me, authors who are political practitioners (‘in the arena,’ so to speak) and authors who write in a pragmatic and thoughtful way I expect my students to find engaging and challenging.

Senator Sasse has a very conservative voting record and yet he has been a #nevertrump from the start, writing this open letter. He is trying to help us figure out how to more productively address the conflicts we face. I respect that, even though I usually disagree with his prescriptions.

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