If you’re outraged over the tone of the current political and economic discussions – or simply want to learn how to have a more fruitful political conversation with family at the dinner table –Susan Gelber Cannon’s community education seminar is an event you ought to attend.
The English and history teacher at Episcopal Academy will discuss her new book Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future, and how teachers, parents and community members can engage children to think about current affairs and act on topics they care about at the Thursday, Jan. 26 seminar at Haverford College, sponsored by the Bryn Mawr Peace Coalition.
Cannon, whose book and teaching methods were written about in Art Carey’s Well Being column in the Jan. 15 Inquirer, said a big piece of the equation is the media environment.
“We’re in an era in which civil discourse is not something we’re trained to do nor do we hear,” Cannon said. “It’s also the general climate…people are so turned off by the news and not paying enough attention because they see it as overwhelmingly negative.”
The longtime Narberth resident said the seminar would address how to seek and evaluate better news sources.
Cannon also said angry communication happens when people don’t listen, research, know or care about one another’s opinions.
“If you’re not listening – a big mistake in civil discourse these days – or caring enough that another person has a different opinion than you, you’ll stop listening,” Cannon said. “Thinking and caring has to be done, as does research on why they might hold an opinion so differently than ours.”
The Episcopal teacher used the opinions of Democrats and Republicans on how to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor as an example.
“What causes Republicans to hold their specific positions?” she asked. “What causes Democrats to hold theirs?”
“Research historically what has and hasn’t been done or worked for both sides,” Cannon added. “Take something from both sides and make it better. In other words, have civil discourse that results in compromise.”
Cannon, who also teaches Model UN, peacemaking and debate at Episcopal, will discuss strategies for better dialogue, as well as offer real life examples from the classroom and real life, some of which can be found in her book.
Cannon acknowledged that social gatherings or dinner conversations might be trickier to navigate for these conversations than the classroom.
“The advantage of the classroom is that you might be able to research up to two days before the debate of a specific topic,” she said. “That opportunity rarely happens at Christmas dinner.”
Cannon said one thing clashing family members can do is admit when they don’t know enough about a particular topic, rather than get angry and begin personal attacks.
“You can say to them, ‘I’m going to find out more and we’re going to talk more about it tomorrow at breakfast,’ because in reality, you aren’t going to solve everything at that particular time,” Cannon said.
A big piece of the seminar – as well as her book – Cannon hopes will get across to audience members is the importance for kids and families to act on issues and in ways consistent with their values.
“The thinking and caring is great, but one thing I say in the book is that we can teach students all the content we want, but if we don’t teach them to act on what they think is important, I don’t think we’re doing them a service at home or at school,” she said.
Cannon’s seminar on Jan. 26 will be held at Haverford College in the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship Café room 104 from 7 to 9 p.m.