When you think back on key moments in your life, what would you say has influenced your development more—special books, or special persons? When you think back on high school or college, which do you remember more—a particular class or a particular book you read? Which do you turn to most frequently when you need guidance about an important decision—something you read or listen to, or someone you can talk with?
If you’re like most people, I suspect you answered these questions by saying that it’s certain people that make the difference in our development, our education, and our ongoing efforts to make our way in the world. Teachers, mentors, and advisors, not texts, are what count.
This isn’t news to most of us, nor is it news to psychologists, scholars, teachers, or education reformers. Teachers are the most important ingredient in educational success. Good teachers explain why Finland has the world’s best public education system.
This matters to IF’s educational efforts, yes. But it also matters to IF’s public discussions. IF has put a lot of effort into developing “curricular” materials for public discussions. More will be. But even more important to the success of these discussions is the quality of the “teachers”—the facilitators—who organize and conduct them. Schools can “enforce” attention to texts in a way that IF public discussion facilitators cannot. Students have time for studying that citizens often lack. Hence even the best discussion texts are likely to be forever limited in the degree they can contribute to IF’s public discussions.
What is likely to continue to matter more is the quality of our facilitators. And here two abilities stand out: facilitators’ capacity to (1) recruit participants with a variety of perspectives and (2) be simultaneously responsive to participants’ interests and push them beyond their comfort zones.
Ask someone who’s participated in an IF public discussion and they’re likely to tell you “It’s the facilitator who made the difference.”