Center for Civic Engagement
The Harpeth Hall Center for Civic Engagement empowers young women to become involved and informed citizens, and to appreciate – through action and reflection – what is required for civil societies to thrive.
Central to this work is a commitment to support the Harpeth Hall mission of developing responsible leaders who make meaningful contributions to their communities and the world.
The Center for Civic Engagement focuses on three key areas:
“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”
- Edward R. Murrow
The ability to navigate the rapidly growing information environment is a crucial skill in the pursuit of knowledge. In cooperation with faculty, the Harpeth Hall library staff developed a literacy skills sequence in grades 5-12 focused on:
- Misinformation and disinformation
- Bias, tone, and agenda setting
- Reliable sources
- Context and subtext
“Democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on earth.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Harpeth Hall encourages students to actively engage in their local communities as well as on the state and national levels. Through curricular projects, Winterim internships, the SEEK and Global Scholars programs and campus organizations such as Women in Government, Public Purpose, and the Civic Engagement Student Advisory Board, students have many opportunities to engage in active citizenship.
“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
- James Madison
Harpeth Hall’s curriculum includes an emphasis on the U.S. Constitution and political system, comparative government, and the impact of socioeconomic and sociopolitical forces on these systems.
Harpeth Hall encourages students to think critically about the responsibilities of citizenship and provides several elective courses in the Upper School to further that aim: Economics; AP U.S. Government and Politics; and Democracy and Leadership.
The Harpeth Hall Statement on Campus Discourse
Informed and open discourse is an integral component of a Harpeth Hall education and an essential characteristic of responsible citizenship. Abiding by the Harpeth Hall difficult dialogues guidelines, students explore, understand and critically examine their own beliefs as well as alternative or opposing beliefs. Thoughtful consideration of multiple perspectives and stories encourages empathy and prepares students to participate constructively in these dialogues both in the classroom and in the public sphere.
While freedom of speech is a fundamental First Amendment right, this constitutional protection does not extend to abusive or hateful speech in a school environment. Such speech violates the Harpeth Hall values statement and undermines our educational mission. However, students must be aware that arguments that challenge their point of view or their world view are not necessarily hateful arguments, and these conflicts often provide important opportunities for growth.
The ability to engage in meaningful civic discourse requires a commitment to strengthening our relationships with each other. As we engage in these critical dialogues, all members of the Harpeth Hall community will work together to create a vibrant and respectful intellectual environment that values diversity of thought and difference of opinion. In so doing, we will demonstrate our faith in the promise and potential of American democracy.
The ability to engage in open and informed dialogue prepares our students to participate in the thoughtful exchange of ideas. Teaching our students how to reasonably consume information and to feel comfortable participating in difficult dialogues is essential as they develop the global perspectives needed to make meaningful contributions to their community and the world.
To guide our students as they engage in these discussions, faculty leaders of our Center for Civic Engagement created a strategy toolkit for students.
Center for Civic Engagement: Difficult Dialogues
Here are a few techniques from Harpeth Hall's toolkit for fostering meaningful dialogue throughout the Harpeth Hall campus — and beyond.
- Be open-minded and respectful.
- Seek first to understand: Persuasion is an important skill, but your ability to persuade is greatly diminished if you do not understand the issue at hand or cannot accurately articulate opposing points of view.
- Use active listening techniques and be aware of body language: Avoid building arguments in your head while someone else is talking. If you are afraid you will forget what you want to say, jot it down.
- Be willing to agree to disagree: Speak your mind freely, but do not monopolize the conversation.
- Focus on the argument itself, not on the person making the argument: To separate an issue from the emotions involved consider the structure of the argument, underlying assumptions, factual support, and the use of logic.
- Verbally confirm what you heard being said: Paraphrase the point or ask for clarification.
- Use language that communicates empathy: Remember that seeking to understand the emotion behind a position does not mean you support or agree with it.
- If you feel angry, disengage from the conversation: Pausing for 10 seconds to take a few deep breaths can help recenter and refocus.
- If you are uncomfortable or upset about what transpired, reach out: Students are encouraged to follow up with a teacher outside of class to debrief from a difficult conversation.
- Tense conversations can be learning opportunities: Remember that working through “hot moments” can provide space for deeper understanding.
Adapted and compiled from published resources at the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis, The Choices Program at Brown University, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and the University of Michigan, and The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University.