Mark Nichols, Challenge Institute
In the public discourse that follows tragic events there seems to be an inability to slow down, think deeply about what happened, examine the bigger questions and then identify what can and should be done. Instead there is an immediate flood of pre-cooked solutions followed quickly by strong opinions about other people’s solutions. Not surprisingly this results in arguing, name calling, and taking sides – an approach historically proven to be unproductive. I believe we need to find a better starting place and implement a process that will result in positive action. We need a framework to positively process events that shake our foundation.
To start – People being harmed (in schools, concert halls and everyday in neighborhoods around the world) is tragic and offensive and we need to do something about it. I believe this starting point should be common ground for about 99 percent of the population. Next we need to identify the challenge, tease out the difficult questions that will help us understand the complexity of the issue, make an honest effort to answer these questions and then see if there is a series of solutions that we can all get behind. I argue that by making the challenge guns (e.g. eliminate guns, or certain kinds of guns) is not a productive place to start. At the basic level it is too narrow and limits (or eliminates) our thinking, it allows for easy ways to avoid a deeper discussion (e.g. slogans “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”) and instantly creates a emotional and irrational atmosphere (“you can take my gun out of my cold dead hands”). While I use two quotes from the NRA lore I acknowledge that at times there is as much emotional and irrational thinking on the gun-control side of the house.
So let’s move the conversation up a level. The progression of thinking is now: Big idea – violence (or safety), essential question – how do we reduce violence? and the simple challenge – reduce violence. Once again this is a statement that 99 percent of people can agree with and then contextualize to their own settings. Once common ground is established we can begin to ask the guiding questions (e.g. who commits act of violence? why? where? how do we define violence? what are the tools of violence? what has been tried in the past? what can we learn from other countries, communities?, what are the roots of violence? etc). The broader challenge will certainly include an exploration of guns in our society, but allows for identifying a host of other issues. If we faithfully identify all of the questions and work through them I believe we can a) identify areas of agreement, b) move away from parroting simple solutions to complex discussions, c) be forced to back up solutions with deep thinking and not just surface level opinions, d) uncover some creative solutions, e) not repeat past mistakes and f) do less name calling and more productive work.
The problem is that we lack a framework for managing these tragedies, and do the hard work to address them. Without a framework we risk moving towards immediate solutions based on inherited opinions (from our parents, the media, etc.) that most likely have never been deeply examined. By holding our pet solutions in check and thinking profoundly about the questions inherent in the challenge of reducing violence I believe we might just be able to work together to identify actionable solutions at the personal, family, local, state, national and world level.
This is the value of teaching/learning using the challenge based learning framework. It gives us the tools to do the hard work, and only through hard work will we solve big challenges.