Many discussion guides designed for young participants include icebreakers to keep energy high, but this guide cuts to the chase. It sets a welcoming tone, but, from the start, it's clear that this is going to be a serious, substantive conversation. Since at least 450 young people participated in Teen Tulsa Talks, the formula seems to have worked.
Early on, participants are encouraged to think about the difference between dialogue and debate, and there are a number of opportunities to reflect on the dialogue process. This is a great way to help students learn how to "practice" democracy.
The six sessions flow nicely, from relationship building, to looking at ways to create a better environment for teens in the schools and in the greater community, to sorting and prioritizing ideas for action. And the language is clear and concise.
My only concern is that Sessions 3 and 4 present a combination of problems and ideas for solutions without first providing a session where teens can name and explore the issues that most concern them. In practice, this may have worked very well, but we usually recommend starting with “views” (various perspectives on the nature of the problem) and then moving to “approaches” (possible solutions). It may be that discussing a fact sheet—in Session 2—turned out to be a useful way to uncover the things that young people really wanted to talk about.
In Tulsa, the discussion ended up focusing on obesity and safety—both issues of great importance to teens. It's just not entirely clear to me how they got there, but the important thing is that they did, and they made progress. What’s the lesson here? Often, the dialogues take on a life of their own. Discussion guides (including those published by Everyday Democracy) provide a starting place for a lively, productive exchange of ideas, even if people don’t follow them, step by step.
Relevant to all walks of life
Covers a variety of perspectives
Uses clear, uncomplicated language
Promotes discussion of trade-offs
Shows a clear path to action