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COMMENTARY: Civility Counts in the classroom

COMMENTARY: Civility Counts in the classroom


The Community Civility Counts campaign is entering the classroom.

We have partnered with Lighthouse Academies to create a template for schools to incorporate civility into their curriculum. 

Thanks to the enthusiastic staff of Lighthouse, a seed of an idea is becoming real.

The plan is to survey the students at the beginning, with the hope of finding out their understanding of civility and openness to new ideas and people.

The best part? It forced us to decide what we think civility is, which was harder than it might sound.

Here's what we settled on: Civility means treating people with dignity and respect even when you don't agree.

It's being able to discuss hot topic issues without the fear of being attacked. It's keeping an open mind when someone has a point that differs from our own.

Not long ago, I listened to a phenomenal podcast from This American Life called "The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind." The reporters told stories about how hard it is to get adults to change their point of view.

Think about kids. They are inherently civil because they are so curious. Why is the sky blue? Why does Jimmy have two dads? Why does that person live on the street?

They are yearning for answers and will take them from the person they deem the best authority. Most of the time that person is a parent or guardian, a teacher or caregiver.

We feel that we can reach kids when they are deciding how to interact with people that aren't the same as them. We can show them that where you're from and what you look like doesn't have to mean we can't respect each other.

Lighthouse has three campuses, and we plan to use all of them. There are two elementary schools, one in Gary and one in East Chicago, and in eighth grade they enter the one high school in Gary.

The plan for the pilot program with Lighthouse is to follow up the survey with weekly meetings with a "test" group of 10 fourth-graders from Gary and 10 from East Chicago. The same with seventh graders. Then we will have two groups of ninth-graders from the high school of mixed backgrounds.

We will meet once a week for six months, culminating in a civic project that the groups work on together. We will then survey them at the end, and see if any of the answers have changed.

The hope is that we can show the students the power in knowing people from other backgrounds. That judgment about "others" is unfair, and how much you can learn from someone who has a different background than you.

We welcome to follow along on our blog at and at the Civility Counts page on Facebook.

Send any questions to me at

Summer Moore is deputy editor for audience engagement. The opinions are the writer's.


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Deputy Editor - Digital/Audience Engagement

Summer is Digital and Audience Engagement Editor at The Times. Her blog documents The Times’ and Gary Chamber of Commerce’s Community Civility Counts campaign. The idea is simple: Treat everyone with respect and dignity, even those you disagree with.

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