I have distinct memories of the first time that I invited my wife, Timiny, home to meet my mother and stepfather. We had been dating for a few months, and while I had told them all about her, it was now time for that major milestone in a relationship, the introductory dinner with the parents. Other than being disappointed that my mother served lamb chops (she knows that I’ve never liked lamb chops), I thought the dinner went quite well. That is, however, until Timiny and I left the house that evening and she looked at me and said, “All your family did was argue with each other over nothing,” to which I replied, “What do you mean? We were just having a conversation.”
To provide appropriate context, I grew up in a house of lawyers, as my mother was a very successful civil litigator and my stepfather was a tax law professor whose penchant for minutia, and for always being right, was unrivaled. Looking back, normal discourse could easily have been considered the verbal equivalent of a Golden Gloves competition, with the dinner table serving as the squared circle. What represented a typical conversation for my family at that time seemed like an unnecessary and unproductive argument to Timiny and, as usual, she was right.
While the interest, passion, and intellect that I grew up with around the dinner table represent vital components of meaningful discussion, they did not guarantee civil discourse. What Timiny stepped into that evening was a competition, with each person trying to prove that they were right and only listening with the goal of finding opportunities to refute the claims of another. What it was not was an attempt to deepen understanding through expressing and considering each other’s perspectives. This is the type of engagement that Ensworth’s pursuit of excellence requires and it is why civil discourse is a fundamental element of our educational program.
Many schools pride themselves on “not teaching students what to think, but teaching them how to think.” By stressing the importance of civil discourse, however, Ensworth takes this one step further, as we don’t just teach students how to think; we teach them how to use their thinking as a catalyst for productive engagement with others. Civil discourse is at the heart of the search for truth. It is only through thoughtful engagement with people who have different opinions that we can foster a greater understanding of an issue, of others, and of ourselves. It is also important to note that understanding does not mean agreement. The goal of civil discourse is not conformity; rather, it is our job to facilitate productive and civil dialogue among students who possess diverse perspectives and experiences and to ensure that all feel respected and supported.
This edition of Ensights highlights the role that civil discourse plays in the Ensworth experience. While our commitment to this concept is not new, the importance of it has only been accentuated by current events and what continues to take place in the greater society. Given that our Mission Statement begins with “In Search of Truth” and ends with “to be contributors to society,” civil discourse provides the connective tissue that supports the realization of these goals, and it is foundational to who we are as a school and the impact that our graduates can have on the world.