Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Let's Start Talking and Listening to Each Other

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Let's Start Talking and Listening to Each Other

Article excerpt

The Internet is making it very easy for us to communicate only with those who agree with us. But that's not helping us solve our common problems.

Pick a topic in education --say, school funding, for example.

Then choose a side. "School funding doesn't matter," for instance.

Then type that phrase into a search engine.

Almost without fail, you'll be directed to hundreds of blogs, commentaries, op-eds, briefings, and position papers with which to buttress your opinion.

Of course, you may have to wade through pieces that contradict your claim. After all, the search terms for each position are mostly the same. Yet you'll find ammunition for any topic, any side.

No wonder then that the policy environment is increasingly fragmented and venomous, with each side marshaling its own evidence and accusing the other of cherry-picking. And it's no wonder that each side has resorted to turning up the volume, tuning out the opposition, and attacking ad hominem.

This is problematic for a number of reasons. But it is perhaps most troubling for its effect on what we think we know.

Certainly we have always self-selected our sources--from our magazine subscriptions to our conversation partners. But the Internet and the rise of new digital platforms have intensified this phenomenon a thousandfold. Today we can corroborate our preconceptions in an instant across seemingly endless sources. In short: It has never been easier to be extremely well-informed in an incredibly constricted way.

Intellectual myopia

This intellectual myopia plays out in public and private, in our casual decisions and our formal policies. And it poses a serious threat to public education.

As with any complex problem, there is no clear solution. Still, one format that seems especially useful is dialogue. Not between confederates, but among adversaries.

Unfortunately, I have learned that digital platforms aren't particularly conducive to dialogue. Six months ago, I began an Education Week blog with Michelle Rhee--with whom I vehemently disagree about a number of issues--and we learned very quickly that producing a dialogue online wasn't easy. Each entry required dozens of emails and an occasional clarifying phone call.

We also realized that technological issues aside, neither of us was very well-practiced at listening to and actually engaging with the other side. …

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