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Teaching Civic Skills to College Students: Why the New Release of Perspectives Includes Clips from the Purple Documentary

Cambriae Lee|September 28, 2023

Empathy and understanding often take a backseat to rapid rebuttals and defensive reactions in a society rife with polarizing discourse. Rarely do we see examples of productive ways to problem-solve across differences and explore solutions to social issues of importance to us all. But there's a documentary showcasing the power constructive dialogue can have on our communities, reshaping how we view engaging with others who hold alternative perspectives. Purple is an inspiring and thought-provoking film that has given educators a visual presentation to display to students as they seek to teach about our government, societal institutions and structures, and skills for civic engagement, academic inquiry, and problem-solving.

Produced by Resetting the Table and Emmy-award winning Transient Pictures, Purple takes viewers on an immersive journey, delving into the lives of everyday Americans by placing them in conversations with community members of opposing viewpoints. Through the power of storytelling, these individuals challenge assumptions, open up, and embark on a collective quest to confront their disagreements head-on and discover what concerns and reasoning lie beneath each other's political positions.

Lauren, a faculty member in the Department of Communications at the University of Maryland, recalls how Purple moved her students:

"This film led to a robust conversation in my class about an alternative way to engage with people of strong political differences/deeply held value conflicts than what most of us are accustomed to. Some students described it as one of the most significant and memorable parts of their semester. In future courses, I will continue using the film at the end of the semester in the same way!"

What makes Purple truly compelling is its ability to challenge preconceived notions and inspire students to actively listen to understand rather than respond with knee-jerk reactions or engage while in defense mode. Through witnessing authentic conversations, students begin to evaluate their own beliefs, opening the door to more nuanced reflection.

Annie Evans, the Director of Education & Outreach at the University of Richmond, believes the film has a place in all schools: "I have hosted two screenings and used the film with students and teachers, and each time I view it, I still see/hear something new. I've used the strategies introduced by PURPLE in classroom discussions. This film should be shared in all schools – with students, teachers, parents and community leaders."

Recognizing the transformative power of Purple, we at the Constructive Dialogue Institute (CDI) decided to incorporate clips from this groundbreaking documentary into the new release of our blended learning program, Perspectives. In Perspectives, students learn to recognize the roots of their ideological differences and how to find shared values with others who hold beliefs opposite their own. They gain insights from research about perception gaps, how our brains approach difficult conversations, and tricks to overcome instinctual behaviors that hinder thoughtful interactions. Students learn how to ask questions to understand each other, share the life experiences that have shaped their views, and establish collaborative goals with others even when in conflict — all of which are vital civic skills.

Our program content is structured based on our five principles of constructive dialogue. It emphasizes skill building so that when students complete the program, they have practical strategies for better engagement in everyday situations. We found that Purple speaks to all five of our principles and that clips from the film could help learners better grasp our third principle to share your story and invite others to do the same.

Adding clips from Purple to Perspectives offers students real-life, visual examples of transformative conversations and how they can put constructive dialogue into action. Our goal was to enhance our already research-proven learning tool by incorporating more multimedia, allowing students to have a more dynamic experience and better retain the content. We planned to produce our own videos, and then we discovered Purple. Partnering with Resetting the Table seemed more advantageous because the documentary they created already did a stellar job of communicating what we wanted to teach.

Purple has an impact beyond the classroom, and those who watch the film find themselves inspired to change how they approach differences in their own lives. Jill, a social work faculty member at UC Berkeley, said:

"If only everyone in America had viewed your video! Maybe we'd be in better shape today… [My students] marveled at the civility of expression. Many of them also found common ground with individuals in the film who they would have otherwise 'written off.' Most students came away feeling hopeful that we can all get to a better place in this country. I share their hope, and thank you for bringing hope to all of us."

A flyer for a screening of Purple.

Perspectives is a free tool for educators and their students. Getting signed up takes only a few short steps, and instructors can test-drive the program before introducing it to their classroom. Whether the goal is to build students' critical thinking and communication skills or to promote civic engagement, both Perspectives and Purple are excellent teaching tools. The full Purple film is available to watch for free, and Resetting the Table provides a wonderful discussion guide for the classroom. If educators are looking for creative ways to bring both teaching tools to their students, we recommend pairing the two together. Students can complete our Perspectives program as homework to build skills for dialogue, watch the Purple film in class, and participate in a post-screening discussion about the film, allowing them to share their authentic opinions and put the skills fostered from Perspectives to use.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Resetting the Table for allowing us to utilize this remarkable film in our educational initiatives. We know the clips will bring some of the hope expressed by viewers to our learners and give them the belief that conversations across differences can lead to greater understanding (and maybe even change).


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