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Notes from 7/1 Conference Call on Inclusion

Conference call participants: Catherine Orland, Rogier Gregoire, Harold Fields, Sandy Heierbacher, Landon Shultz, P.J. Longoni, Leanne Nurse

Before the call began, Rogier discussed some of his work with encouraging school districts to move from Aristotelian to Socratic pedagogy, to move towards a student-centered, dialogue based, approach to education.  The intractability of established curricula makes this process very difficult, since millions of dollars are invested in current textbooks.  Also, teachers are not used to having a genuine intellectual relationship with their students, given the Industrial Mode of our educational system.  The idea of having to become involved with students in genuine inquiry is antithetical to how many teachers believe the classroom process should be conducted.

Sandy began the call by describing how the Core Team is developing a “self-organizing” way for conference participants to tackle and learn about the top 5 challenges facing our field.  Challenges she specifically mentioned were: moving from dialogue and deliberation to action and policy change, presenting our work inclusively, and walking our talk in terms of bias and inclusion.

Sandy said focus on the challenge areas will begin the first day of conference in open plenary, where one or two persons will talk about each challenge area, expressing why it is important to them and perhaps telling a story.  One or two people will serve as point people for each challenge area throughout the conference, so workshop leaders and participants will know who to approach about each challenge.  Five posterboards will be set up to track ongoing comments and learnings about the challenge areas.  At plenary on the last day of conference, the point people (and perhaps others as well who have  been involved in the challenge areas) stand and report on what has come up, what we have learned, and address where we can go from here.

P.J. expressed concern about the potential size of the groups, and how conversations would be initiated at mealtimes.  Sandy observed that the process is intended to be self organizing.  Sandy said that on the first day of the conference topics would be posted on some tables, but not all, during mealtimes.

Harold wanted to know if rooms would be available for topic conversations during non-meal times.  Sandy said she would examine the conference design, and felt that some spaces at the hotel would be available.  She also described the Listeners, who would be available on an as-needed basis.

Sandy mentioned inclusion related sessions (Jewish-Palestinian, Hearing Impaired. Using Film, LGBT, Mental Health, Involving Conservatives, Vets for Vets, and a session on large group techniques for dialogue about diversity).  Harold described the film Traces of the Trade, and joining with Coming to the Table, for facilitating ongoing conversation about the issues the film raises.  The film (87 min) shows a white family whose wealth evolved from rum and slave trade, which supported the economy of Rhode Island, and much of America. The film recently aired on PBS, and generated much interest nationally, especially in the context of Sen. Obama’s candidacy and Rev Wright’s comments.  Coming to the Table is designed to bring persons together to talk about these matters.  Episcopal Church has seen the film, and passed a resolution of apology.

Rogier spoke about the film’s last scene, where family members at dinner realized for the first time how their attendance at Ivy League schools depended on privilege derived from their ancestors.

P.J. wondered about reaction from whites who came to American as indentured servants, or whose forebears came after slavery was illegal.  Harold pointed out that a two tiered system was in place even after slavery was outlawed.  The book Slavery by Another Name describes how our modern prison system is perpetuation of slavery and disenfranchisement.

Catherine encouraged us to re-focus on the conference, and Landon asked if a “track” was dedicated to racism and its legacy, with workshops being provided to facilitate dialogue around a topic such as “Trace of the Trade: Where Do We Go from Here?”  Rogier asked about definition of dialogue as applied to workshops.  Sandy explained that some workshops will be presentations of various approaches to D&D, and some will be using these approaches to address various topics.  Sandy said some D&D approaches will be displayed in “speed dating” format, moving from table to table in a plenary session we’re calling the “D&D Marketplace.”

Sandy also explained that she wants some people on the call to work with Harold and his co-presenter and the people from Coming to the Table to help design the second in a series of two workshops. The first workshop will show clips of Traces and Coming to the Table’s films and encourage dialogue about the legacy of slavery. The second workshop would focus on the racial challenges we face today, like gentrification, and encourage people to learn about innovative ways people are using D&D to address these challenges.

Harold talked about presenting the film as a tool that could be used after the conference.  We talked about the importance of maintaining meaningful strands of conversation throughout the conference, and about providing models and tools for addressing the emotions and feelings that will arise.  Sandy talked about how the workshop led by Active Voice will provide tips and tools for using films in community conversations, and we should take a look at the other inclusion-related workshops to determine what each of them can contribute to the inclusion challenge area and how we might be able to connect some of the sessions.

Rogier talked about the conference’s administrative team being able to adapt the conference design on the fly, leaving room for creativity and unexpected by having time and space available for evolving hot topics.  He also pointed out that film is provocative, but not transformative, and cautioned against the over-use of film.

Catherine commented that she will provide a workshop asking, ”How are you going to take this back?”

Sandy asked for volunteers to help with creating that second workshop involving both Traces and Coming to the Table.  Catherine, Rogier, P.J., and Landon offered to follow up with Harold.

Rogier and P.J. also volunteered to take a look at all of the inclusion-related workshops that have been approved for the conference, and think about how they can intentionally feed into the inclusion challenge area.

We concluded with Sandy’s inviting everyone to share a final comments, and folks shared their mutual appreciation at everyone’s involvement.

Respectfully submitted, Landon T. Shultz, PhD.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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