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  Workshop 7: Controversial Public Policy Issues  
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Workshop 7

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Teacher Perspectives: Consensus building

JoEllen Ambrose: The final activity was to get them to reach some consensus. Where do they see the middle ground between those two extreme positions? There wasn’t much that I did, besides keep the time watch. [It was] a chance to listen. Anytime I come in, I think they see it as a judgment (“She’s asking me a question because I didn’t argue it right ”), but especially in the consensus part, when they begin to write down what they think about racial profiling, each group needed questions to elaborate a little bit more and be a little more careful. One group ended up going back to the very first question--What is suspicion? What is the basis for this whole thing anyway? They were still dealing with almost definition issues.

Democracy is not clean. If we wanted one person to make a decision for us, we wouldn’t be a democracy. We all need to be part of the difficult discussions that go into finding consensus. We need to understand that is the process of democracy. When students can accept that consensus isn’t necessarily selling out--that it’s the incremental process by which we bring about change--then I think that’s a huge democratic value they get from [this] teaching tool. You only have to look at [how] the civil rights movement [used] law to bring about change in our society and how that process came about through incremental steps and consensus building.

Building consensus is very important for students because so often they only see the extreme positions. We need to see where we can build a consensus rather than alienate people by going to the extremes. There has to be some sort of consensus building to find the majority vote to pass the law. At the same time, we have to protect that minority. [We] can’t deny the rights that are given to people within the Constitution.


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