Incoming Hume-Fogg Magnet High freshmen walked single file into the school library for the purpose of sitting and talking to each other like adults should.
For the past year, school librarian Amanda Smithfield has organized monthly roundtable discussions with students of different political stripes to talk about tough issues of the day over pizza.
On Wednesday, the students at the orientation exercise called “What’s the Role of Civility in America?” had read three pre-assigned articles about civility and passionately — but respectfully — discussed the topic.
Smithfield tested them on their knowledge of the First Amendment and set the ground rules for discussion, which meant listening to each other actively — and no personal attacks.
Smithfield is the founder of ProjectCivAmerica and has made it her mission to bring people together. She is the sponsor of both the student Democratic and Republican clubs.
Our youth must help us renew our citizenship
In my view, she is a committed champion of civility who is not only bringing students together, but is also helping form the leaders of tomorrow who will model a renewal of U.S. citizenship.
That is essential today because the political polarization in America has eaten away at the ability or desire of many people to talk about and debate tough issues with people who have different viewpoints.
Tribalism is a word we hear often, and critics of civility say courtesy and politeness are passé in this age.
But civility is far more complex than that — it’s about doing one’s duty as a citizen.
That means speaking up and out and working toward change through the political process: through voting, attending public meetings and even taking a stand in protest, when necessary.
How to help create civil discussions: Watch live
While the Hume-Fogg students are not old enough to vote yet, they exercised their freedom to petition the government by writing letters to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper.
What if the children of this era are the one’s who can save our democratic principles and strengthen our republic?
That would be a welcome gift.
On Monday at 9 a.m. CT, I will interview Smithfield in a live broadcast about why she formed ProjectCivAmerica and her tips for creating civil conversations anywhere and everywhere.