Braver Angels of Arkansas, an organization that brings together in a working alliance of “red” (conservative or Republican-leaning), “blue” (liberal or Democratic-leaning), and Americans of various shades of purple, announced Monday the results of its much anticipated “Race in Education” workshop.
Led by moderators/state co-coordinators April Carpenter and Glen White, the focus of the workshop was to explore the range of participants’ views on teaching about race in public schools and to seek common ground. The event, conducted via Zoom, was sponsored by the Braver Angels Central Arkansas alliance, the CALS library system and the Department of Applied Communication at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
The event brought together Arkansans on both sides of the political fence for a deep dive into an issue that has recently become controversial, as well as critical race theory and teaching the history of race in our country’s public school system.
During the workshop, participants from various points along the political spectrum explored what they believed about the issue, told personal stories about their connection to the matter, and engaged in several group exercises that generated values, concerns, and potential solutions or policies that participants felt might be positive ways to approach some resolution of the divergent views they portrayed in their conversations.
The Red and Blue participants were led through various opportunities to voice their views in a structured format designed to maintain respectful dialogue, while seeking to identify areas in which both groups found agreement. Commonalities that were uncovered included values such as an accurate and honest depiction of history, respect toward others, using history to change the future, and honoring a multiplicity of voices.
Common concerns were also identified across the political spectrum, such as the politicization of race issues preventing solutions to be found, who has the authority to determine what type of information should be taught, misinformation about critical race theory, and whose stories are being told and from what perspective.
The final phase of the workshop helped those in attendance to begin to formulate possible strategies for acting on the basis of those areas of common ground that were identified in the workshop. Next steps will include follow-up meetings, discussions, and action planning by participants, with Braver Angels leaders serving in a supportive role or assisting with resources.
Carpenter, the organization’s red co-coordinator and regional coordinator, said, “We were excited to see the interest in this topic by both Reds and Blues in Arkansas. We are hopeful the work we started can lead us to some bipartisan efforts in the future on how to teach race in Arkansas public schools, since this is such an important topic for our state.”
Recent polls show that a majority of Americans feel the country is more divided than ever. Through programs and workshops, Braver Angels creates opportunities for meaningful discussion among members of opposing political parties.
White, Arkansas’s blue co-coordinator for Braver Angels, said the organization never tries to push an agenda or change participants’ minds, but rather encourages respectful discussions among those who value the United States and its people over a political party. Carpenter believes it is very important to approach difficult dialogues with open hands and an open heart, with an emphasis on building relationships, rather than demonizing those with whom we disagree.
All persons who would like to learn more about working to reduce political polarization in Arkansas and to help bring people together in structured, respectful ways to listen to each other and to seek common ground are encouraged to reach out to the organization for more information or to become involved. Leaders also welcome the opportunity to speak to civic groups, churches, school groups and other organizations about the Braver Angels mission and strategies for decreasing polarization.
READ ALSO: AMP’s 2021 Future 50