For more than two decades, forward-leaning educators have focused on a set of skills that for some reason all started with the letter “C”: creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, etc. I want to add another “C” to that list, one, I would argue, that will be more important to the world going forward than all the rest. Civility. If we don’t get this one right, we may not have a framework in which the others will bear fruit.
Civility: The ability to hold civil conversations, despite profound differences. The framework of a civil society based on objective realities, and laws that apply to all. A respect for rights, based solely in the fact that we are all members of a shared civilization. So many important words derive from that root “civil”.
One of my strongest early lessons from Wisdom Road is that people across the spectrum of politics, geography, culture, race, and income are sick of incivility. A small, powerful minority thrive on the extremes of incivility; they make a living off of prying others apart. The rest of us want to be able to look each other in the eye; converse across a dinner table; share our thoughts as humans, not members of opposing teams. We don’t enjoy polarization and bickering. We feel good when we are civil with each other.
We may think we teach civility in school but how much time do we really spend on teaching the skills of human-human interactions? I know those were not areas of focus when I was in school, and I don’t see many schools today teaching how to listen, empathize, discuss, reflect, value, and respect with those who might have powerfully different life experiences and world views than our own.
There are huge financial and political incentives to pushing all of us into silos and bubbles of selfish interest. If we re-learn civility, we will not all agree on everything, but more of us will agree on SOME things…and we will get along better on the rest.
I am pushing us to think about the most important next horizon in education. It is not STEM; it may not even be DEI. Even “purpose”, which I argued is a huge part of our educational mission in a VUCA world, derives strength from civility. We can each have our own purpose, which is fundamental to living a good life, but if we cannot reconcile our purpose with that of others, through civil interaction, then we risk operating in a bubble that makes sense, or proves fruitful, to a group of one. That is not a path to success for our species.