Skillful moderating is a key to any successful forum, and as community dialogues on the achievement gap come together around the nation, organizers are grappling with two critical questions: Who will moderate? And what kind of training should we provide?
Building Civic Capacity
In Bridgeport, Connecticut, for example, where Marge Hiller’s Bridgeport Public
Education Fund has helped nurture community engagement for the past decade, teaching students and teachers to moderate is intrinsic to her philosophy and project.
“You can’t do anything top down anymore,” Hiller said. “It has to be something that comes from the people affected…One group we haven’t had enough information from is students.”
Her group has been working with the city’s most troubled high school, Harding High, to increase involvement from the community. The model they’ve used features discussions led by teachers and students. She called the dialogue model a success and said it’ll continue at Harding and will be duplicated at the district’s two other high schools this year.
Taylor Willingham, the founder and head of Texas Forums, an initiative of the LBJ Library in Austin, trained 120 moderators for dialogues on the achievement gap in six Central Texas communities last fall. She agrees that it’s important to nurture grassroots interest in deliberation.
“I really want to build the civic capacity of a community,” she said. “We see the moderating role as another way of exercising citizenship…We wanted to have a large group of volunteers that organizations can call upon in the future.”