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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Debate As Civil Discourse

Peter Drucker is probably my preferred source for ideas, particularly regarding leadership. He is the author of many books considered as classics in the world of business and leadership. Although he recently passed away his thoughts are sustained through the Drucker Foundation. Tonight's Blog evolves from a quote contained in a publication of that foundation, entitled, On Creativity, Innovation and Renewal.

"In his essay “The New Atlantis” Francis Bacon the 17th century essayist and adviser to Queen Elizabeth, sought to explain the emergence of the Golden Age associated with that time period. Within his essay he imagined a new utopia with no borders, no boundaries. Vision ruled in place of politics. The leaders in this envisioned new world were considered Merchants of Light – “Great merchant traders and capitalists who plunged their personal wealth and reputations into ships that sailed beyond where all maps ended. They sailed into foreign nations under the names of other nations and brought back books and abstracts and patterns of experiments of all other parts.”

This quote has resonated with me because I have not been shy about attempts to stretch myself through the exercise of personal exploration and imagination. The desire to seek new perspectives and try new experiences has always proved tempting. I'm anxious to look over the horizon or around the corner. Every opportunity represents a potential for learning.

Heatly High School is fortunate to have many young men and women who dream and imagine - people who harbor a similar interest in adopting new ideas and adapting to new experiences. Among those people anxious to grow and discover are two enterprising young men who have endeavored to explore untrod paths and plow unturned fields. They have demonstrated their commitment to do their part to facilitate  improvement and progress at Heatly through their efforts to expand opportunities, not only in pursuit of their personal goals and gain but, more significantly, in areas in which they derive no advantage or enhancement other than the satisfaction of promoting and providing possibilities for others to benefit. They have searched for perceived needs and wants and then worked to generate appropriate responses.

This pair of entrepreneurs, or aspiring Merchants of Light, has been responsible for quietly, in stealth like fashion, initiating the development of programs and practices that stir both thought and progress. Their generous effort and energy has been impressive. I have enjoyed visiting with them and listening to their questions and suppositions. They have been helpful and respected advisors.

I first met one of the two during a tour of the school as part of the interview stage of the search and selection process for a new superintendent for Heatly last May. There was a question and answer segment between the student council members and the candidate. I was asked several probing questions related to the school budget and my views on school finance - pretty heady stuff for even a high school learner. I was so impressed with his interest, and concern for the fiscal plight of the school and the subsequent impact of budget reductions to the programs and people of the school, that I remained for over an hour afterwards meeting with him on a one-to-one basis explaining the nuances of state aid formulas and budgeting practices.

A Debate Club is one project among the several different proposals extended by the two young men. They were interested in creating more extra-curricular activities at school to involve classmates who were not already engaged with other school related experiences. After soliciting enough members to authenticate a need they persuaded a supportive teacher to volunteer her time as an advisor to supervise an after school club. I consider the goal of debate to serve more than simply meeting the interests of participants, but to provide a forum whereby young people can learn and appreciate the civil discourse of informed debate, as opposed to arguing, talking over each other, or trading toxic and venomous barbs designed to belittle opposition. The television and radio already offer an overwhelming amount of talk shows that merely devolve into shouting matches and name calling.

I am hopeful that this group will grow. I am grateful for the dedication and loyalty that these two young men have manifested in their actions.  

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