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My hope: learn reasonableness

Imagine, if you can, a conference organized by high school students in which the Indiana leader of the Ku Klux Klan held forth in the same room with a militant black leader – and were not allowed to shout at each other. In another room, Muslim and Christian leaders peacefully discussed their differences and similarities.

Sanctioned by the school, held at a local college. Moderated by teenagers. Students could question any of the views expressed as long as discussion stayed respectful.

Such was the setting for a conference organized by a student group during a time when rapid change seemed to be sweeping the nation. Issues included racism, religious differences, the environment, the war, how society treated teens.

The conference comes to mind because of the significance that today has taken on as the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Students and others have encouraged a national school walk-out to draw attention to the calls to change gun laws and to school security.

The three school superintendents that our reporter Jeff Stanton spoke with on Monday tried to set a tone of reasonableness for today. None wished to encourage walk-outs but all thought the day might include discussion of issues.

The Indiana School Boards Association had issued an advisory stating that school officials must remain neutral in discussions of issues. Discussion should be an essential function of schools: allowing students of diverse opinions to reasonably express their views and hear other views. (I think it’s OK for teachers to express views, too, as long as they’re not saying their views are the only correct ones.)

That’s what reminded me of the my high school’s Human Relations Conference. The late 1960s were a time of great unrest, particularly in an urban school like mine. Our school included students from a wide variety of backgrounds.

In school it was very hard for me to tell who came from well-to-do backgrounds and whose families had a hard time making ends meet. What mattered was last night’s ball game, the test coming today, what was for lunch or after-school plans.

A student group called Human Relations Council decided one year to focus on extremism. It brought together people of diverse views. For reasons that I’ve forgotten, I didn’t attend the conference. What I remember is my friends talking afterwards about the viewpoints they’d been exposed to and how they had new ideas to consider. Maybe, they realized, people with other views had opinions worth trying to understand. (Universally, they had no use for the racist views of the Klansman.)

So reasonable discussion – and why reasonableness is so important -- would be my hope for today.  Working towards progress starts by understanding that reasonable people will have different viewpoints. That starts with respectful dialogue.

Right now in this country, just about everyone seems intent on steamrolling over anyone with a different point of view.

Carrying signs and shouting slogans or running TV commercials or sending tweets that play on hate, fear and paranoia won’t solve problems. These ways of expression say my way or nothing at all.

Reasonable discussion is my hope for today. Respect the person even if you disagree with her or his opinion.

Bob Hansen is editor of the Connersville News-Examiner. Contact him at 765-0825-0588, ext. 235, or send email to bhansen@newsexaminer.com.