Our June meeting will be in person at the small covered pavilion at Hammond Park in Sandy Springs. Park in the lot at
6005 Glenridge Drive.3
We will meet at 3 p.m. on Sunday the 26th for brief announcements and lots of time for making connections. Not a meal. Bring snacks to share if desired.
Join us at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, July 10, 2-5 p.m. for the dynamic zoom workshop "Skills for Bridging the Divide." Learn how to communicate effectively with anyone about political issues in this mid-term election year.
In a guest column, Stell Simonton writes about her experience in Braver Angels Georgia, a citizens’ organization that brings community members across the political spectrum together to move beyond polarizing stereotypes.
Simonton has been a freelance writer in Atlanta for a decade. Prior to that, she worked at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a copy editor and digital producer.
A group of Georgia conservatives and liberals met to tackle a sticky issue — how public schools in Georgia should teach about race. Not surprisingly, they held different opinions. However, they didn’t yell or make threats, standing in stark contrast to the clashes at metro Atlanta school board meetings.
Through an online workshop led by a group called Braver Angels Georgia, political adversaries found a path toward common ground. They created a list of points they agreed on, including that schools should teach critical thinking. They agreed that schools must teach the good, the bad and the ugly — a fuller picture of our history that emphasizes the importance of the diversity of ideas.
They had concerns, including worry about hurt feelings and unnecessary shaming of schoolchildren. The group of eight “reds” and eight “blues” jointly formulated some policies they’d like to see in classrooms.
They included teaching a comprehensive history of the formation of our country that allows students to appreciate their history and move forward in community. They also wanted teachers trained in classroom management and conflict resolution techniques to interrupt racially charged situations, showing respect for everyone.
Braver Angels is a national organization begun in 2016. One of the founders, William Doherty, is a professor at the University of Minnesota and a longtime marriage and family therapist. He brought his work with warring couples into the political arena.
Braver Angels Georgia is led by liberal-leaning Sharyn Dowd, a retired associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Decatur, and conservative-leaning Barbara Brown, who teaches math to sixth-grade special education students at Berkmar Middle School in Gwinnett County.
They see a need to talk across the political divide. At the time of the 2016 election, Brown was living with a sister who was liberal. “After the election, she didn’t talk to me for two weeks,” Brown said.
Now in 2022, the sisters are divided on the vaccination issue. But through her experience in Braver Angels, Brown has dropped the “prove-you-wrong” approach. “I’ve gotten better at hearing the other side’s ideas and understanding where they’re coming from,” she said.
Dowd, too, had a relative she found difficult to talk with. He labeled everyone he disagreed with a socialist, she said. “I’ve gotten so much better at listening and asking questions that aren’t ‘gotcha’ questions,” she said. “It’s improved my relationship with him. Braver Angels is so close to one of the core principles of Christianity, which is reconciliation.”
Braver Angels is clear that its mission is not to change people’s political convictions and make everyone into moderates. It’s to teach people how to work together in the face of difference. It does that by setting up a structure in which people can hear the concerns of those on the other side — and even develop curiosity about their contrary views. It creates a way in which opponents can work together and move forward.
How does a two-hour workshop help people step across the cold war between left and right? For one thing, it allows people to meet as people first and political opposites second. It also follows a careful structure.
First, the group breaks into red and blue pairs, who share their background and personal experiences. Eventually, the groups draw up a list of values, concerns and solutions, discussing and making changes to find areas of agreement. The lists are brought back to the group as a whole, reds and blues together. Any member can strike something with which they may disagree.
The Braver Angles approach is not just about avoiding the stalemate of bitter political fights. The value is that when people create a respectful space to talk about their differences, it allows previously unthought-of solutions to emerge. In holding the tension of opposites, new ideas and potential solutions have room to develop.
Another way of saying this is that the rigidity of the current polarization prevents the new and creative ideas we so badly need. And Braver Angels can help.
Points of Agreement
11-14-21 Braver Angels’ Common Ground workshop
How Should the U.S. History of Race Be Taught in Public Schools in Georgia?
● All students need a comprehensive education that includes history with accuracy and balance in teaching race.
● We should teach critical thinking where children learn the full history, age appropriate. Children are given facts and taught to be critical and evaluative.
● Teaching the good, bad and the ugly -- a fuller picture of our history that emphasizes the importance of the diversity of ideas.
● We need to have a balanced emphasis on race.
● Make sure all human beings are treated with human dignity.
● We value friendships with all people regardless of background.
● Freedom of speech is important (and complicated).
● We need curiosity with a willingness to understand.
● Everyone needs to be at the table in these discussions.
● That in the past only one side was represented. History is written by the winners, and it needs to be balanced - how do we seek out the truth?
● We don’t agree on the same facts or interpretation.
● Teaching concepts that are appropriate for the age level.
● Worry about hurt feelings, concerns for children's well-being.
● Incorporating shame into the education, not dealing with the effects of shame.
● Compromise might not be possible.
● Lack of harmony leads to a big explosion (“powder keg”).
● Should legislatures be involved in what is taught in schools, or police what is taught?
● That history will repeat itself.
Solutions or Policies
● Teach a comprehensive history of the formation of our country that allows students to appreciate their history and move forward in community.
● Support critical thinking about history where it is okay to question what was written.
● Continue teaching civics beyond the 8th grade, teach about the concerns around the Constitution and Founding Fathers.
● Show more of the process of how we came to milestones in US history to expand the view; not just factual, but the debates on lesser-known documents, for example the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist papers.
● Train teachers to interrupt racially charged situations, showing respect for everyone.
● Engage parents with the curriculum by sharing their own background; encourage students to discuss what they’re learning with families.
● Offer parent discussion groups sponsored by school districts.
Action Steps Based on these Points of Agreement
1. Red and Blue get together and present our list to their local school board.
2. Hold a Braver Angels’ Town Hall meeting with state legislators presenting our agreements on teaching race in school.
3. Continue the conversations here in Georgia trying to get more minorities to join in.
4. Discuss these steps at our Alliance meetings for Braver Angels’ Georgia