For 17 years Conversations About Education in Connecticut have been funded by the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund. These Community Conversations have engaged citizens from over 100 cities and towns throughout the state. Community Mediation, manager of Community Conversations About Education, is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to making democracy work fairly, inclusively and vibrantly for all.
Something almost magical happens during these Community Conversations. Education is the focus and participants are able to speak openly in a safe, civil environment. People listen to each other respectfully. They may agree or disagree; consensus is not the goal. Participants leave energized and feeling more hopeful about solving complex challenges.
Learning what others in town think about an issue can highlight where citizens share common ground, disagree or are left with questions and concerns. The conversations can help policy-makers form decisions.
Communities organize the event themselves with technical assistance from Community Mediation consultants. Local sponsors from throughout Connecticut compete for first time awards of up to $2500. The award covers the conversation expenses including a light supper or breakfast for 100. This large group of 100 divides into small, manageable discussion groups. The individual groups, led by a local, trained moderator and recorder team, all discuss a single education topic that may be created for a specific community issue or drawn from the "Examples of Conversation" list to the right:
WHO ATTENDS THESE CONVERSATIONS?
Planners work hard to bring together diverse groups of people. The richer the diversity, the richer the conversation. Each small group has a mixture of ages, stages in life, economic status, ethnicity, and gender. Parents and students attend, as do school administrators and teachers. But it is essential that the larger community be involved. So we see employers, non-parents, the clergy, home schoolers, college students and school dropouts. Everyone is represented. When this happens a broad spectrum of opinion emerges. It's an opportunity to see some new faces and hear some new voices speak out on important issues.
At the end of the event we often hear, That was great. Let's do it again.