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Essentials of Dialogue: A resource to give young people around the world the skills and experience of dialogue – the Tony Blair Faith Foundation

March 10, 2016

EODI don’t have much time for Tony Blair but somebody whose insight I respect pointed me towards this document.

It aims to provide educators with easy to use materials that give young people the dialogue and critical thinking skills needed to break down religious and cultural stereotypes. Essentials of Dialogue can help young people understand other religious and cultural perspectives by navigating difference and building understanding.

Unlike a debate, where there is a winner and a loser, dialogue, it is claimed, is something where everyone is a winner.

The teacher is supposed to be a neutral facilitator.

There are activities to work out the ground rules together rather than the teacher merely imposing them. They have been trialled all over the world. They use the film ‘The Imam and the Pastor’ about Nigeria as a starter.

Tips for listening are rather similar to those of counselling: Thinking about what your body language and posture are saying to them; Not interrupting; Using silence effectively, waiting for them to say what they need to say; Paraphrasing or summarising the emotion and content of what you are hearing. You are not agreeing with the person, merely reiterating what they said; Reflecting an emotion – “You are feeling angry” Reflecting content – “You feel angry because these things have happened to you”; Refraining from judgement or evaluation, just reflecting what the other person is saying – “If I understand what you’re saying…”; Asking the person to say more about their experiences or feelings in a way that shows you are interested; Affirming a person when you agree with what they are saying.

All the handouts and worksheets are provided in the booklet.

This acroymnym is used:

RESPECT: We treat everyone with respect, we don’t have to agree with one another all the time, but we should always treat one another with respect.

EDUCATION: No matter how old or experienced we are, we all continue learning. We can always learn from one another and share a responsibility to teach others about the things that are precious to us.

SAFETY: We know that people can only flourish when they are safe. We want everyone who takes part in dialogue to feel safe: students safe to openly share their ideas, teachers safe that they are well-supported, principals and parents safe that the programme is educationally beneficial for all their students.

PERSPECTIVE: We want to help people make dialogue work in their individual circumstances rather than forcing everyone to do the same thing. We know that sometimes we have to be patient as schools find the best way to do that.

EMPATHY: Being open to looking at the world through someone else’s eyes gives us

new ways to understand the world and helps us to learn and grow. We don’t have to accept everything we encounter; sometimes the thing we learn is that we are different and disagree.

COMPASSION: We create opportunities for our young people to actively engage in their communities, working with others of different faiths and beliefs to address pressing issues and make the world a better place.

TRUST: The key to any relationship is trust. Dialogue is about building trust that we will always treat one another respectfully, openly and honestly, that we will always listen to each other’s values and beliefs.

There are tips about helping students to discern propaganda and bias – really useful, especially at a time when ‘Media Studies’ is dimissed as a Mickey Mouse subject.

Another useful acronym: RAVEN is a simple mnemonic that gives students a sophisticated way of analysing the content of internet sites. Basically it is a series of questions to ask yourself whenever you go to a website.

REPUTATION: What do you know about this website or the person writing (just because they call themselves a Doctor doesn’t mean that they are an expert on this topic, or indeed have any qualifications at all). Is this website one that most people trust? Does the history of the site imply that they will be truthful and unbiased. If we know that someone has told lies in the past, should we believe them in the future? If someone is important (a politician or community leader), does that mean that we should trust them? Wikipedia is actually a pretty good source, the process of crowd-sourcing information ensures that on most issues, a range of views is well presented.

ABILITY TO SEE: Is this site or person in a position to be well informed about the issue on which they are writing? If you are reading a news report for example, was the person writing actually there, or are they relaying someone else’s words. (If they were there, were they in a good position to see or hear everything?) The date when something was written is also a good indicator of ability to see; if information is old it may well now be out of date.

VESTED INTEREST: Does the site or author stand to gain by putting across a particular point of view. Are they owned by or supported by a particular government or political party? Are they selling something? Do they have anything to gain or to lose by lying or changing their story?

EXPERTISE: Do they know what they are talking about? Often academics, researchers or policy advisors are put forward as experts. Someone who has a PhD may be incredibly expert in one particular area of information, but know next to nothing about other areas. Just because someone sounds credible and puts forward an argument that appears to make sense, it doesn’t mean that they are an expert. Does this person have the background or training to be an expert on this story? Do they have the specialised knowledge to interpret the evidence correctly?

NEUTRALITY: This is very difficult as almost nothing on the internet is neutral. A good, informative site, however, should make an effort to acknowledge that there are different points of view on every possible subject. Is there anything that might influence the site, or the writer to take a particular point of view? Does the person writing know any of the people or issues involved (and how do they feel about them)?

There are tips on how to organise video-conferencing, blogging and using social media like Twitter.

Some activities are supposed to last about 3 hours. While this might work for suspended timetable days, it will be harder to build up a head of steam where RE is timetabled for a miserly one period as week.

Assessment is via ‘I can do’ statements.

It’s online here

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