A Definition : “…formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech..”
Its Use : “I hope we can treat each other with civility and respect”


“Civility is not something that automatically happens.

Civil societies come about because people want them to.”

Jimmy Bise, Jr.

Some claim that civil society is breaking down as political rallies turn ugly.  People text and take cell phone calls during concerts and in audiences before speakers.   Sometimes it feels that everyone is only looking out for number one.

It’s easy to look at the behavior of others, but it is essential that we examine our own actions.  Are we being kind?  Are we taking time to listen to one another? Really listen.

Do we apologize when we have hurt another?  Do we treat others as we want to be treated?  As the quotation says above, civility doesn’t just happen. We have to commit to behaving civilly ourselves.

As Election Day approaches in the USA and given the increasing volatility of political discourse  from vitriolic editorializing presented as news to recent Tea Party protests or Occupy actions, there is a need for students to learn how to disagree while remaining civil. 

Not only should students learn how to engage in civil debate, but they should also learn the value of listening to points of view and opinions that differ from their own. Being open to different kinds of people and ideas help students maintain open minds and to get along in a diverse society.

One of the difficulties teachers face in the classroom is that we as a society are not modeling for young people how to have vigorous conversations, even debates, about significant social and political issues.

In recent decades, we’ve seen two extreme approaches to hard conversations:  privileging agreement over individual opinion on the one hand and a “take no prisoners” approach on the other. When agreement and avoiding conflict is privileged, debate tends to be squelched when someone suggests that all “agree to disagree” or that “everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.”


Here are some points to ponder on the human skills of being civil.  For ourselves as teachers and for our students.

Present a Definition for all to reflect on.  E.g., Use the one at the top of this lesson which is repeated again here, or find one of your own.

Definition : ”…formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech…”
Use : “I hope we can treat each other with civility and respect”

Establish :  why be civil?  It is a central value of a flourishing group, family, society, community or school. Genuine civility leads to cooperation and community..

Examining our Civility

Do you and your students believe that civility is diminishing ?

. . . What is your response when someone suddenly cuts into line before you ? In the car? In the cafeteria? On the train ? In the bus stop line ? In the store?

. . . Review how often you hear curse words or the F-Word being used in and around your school.  Why ?

. . . Is it a common occurrence ?  Is it when someone gets into a verbal fight ?

. . . Review the behavior of people – and yourself – when you are on your cell-phone in a public place.

. . . Is it easier to be rude than civil ?  What are the consequences ?

. . . What happens to civility when we compete  academically ?

. . . What happens to civility when we compete at sports ?

. . . What examples of civility and/or un-civility do you see on TV ?  Online ?

Seeking to Be Civil

There are many online sites that explore the teaching of civility to students and children. Here are two sets of ideas that explore ways to focus on and practice civility:

What are some of the ways of teaching that encourages civility ?

  • Teaching about multicultural tolerance and acceptance.
  • Teaching children to care about others because it brings them meaning rather than expecting anything in return.
  • Involving children in public service at a children’s hospital.
  • Teaching children to respect senior citizens by volunteering at independent living facilities.
  • Teaching common courtesies, such as introducing oneself, shaking hands with others, and thanking people for doing kind gestures for them.
  • Teaching children to share and play cooperatively with others.
  • Teaching children to respect and assist those who are disabled or have learning limitations.
  • Parents can demonstrate through word and action what civility means.

Ways to Teach Children Civility

.Here are some ideas worth pondering :
15 ways children learn civility from adults:

  1. Lead by example.
  2. Think about the impact of our words and actions on others first.
  3. Treat children and adults with the respect that we expect them to treat others.
  4. Apologize when we are wrong.
  5. Disagree with intelligence, humor, and civil discourse.
  6. Don’t let anger and emotion get in the way of listening to others.
  7. Teach character strengths, like respect and empathy, at home and in classrooms.
  8. Demand civility of our politicians and public servants.
  9. Set ground rules for civil behavior at home and in classrooms.
  10. Challenge people’s views but don’t attack the person.
  11. Be tolerant of people who are different from us.
  12. Praise others for their civil behavior, regardless of their viewpoints.
  13. Empower children to take a stand against bullying.
  14. Remind kids often why we should be civil.
  15. Teach kids how to become engaged citizens.

Teaching Civility in an F-Word Society

Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D.


  • Consider creating a “code of civility”  or “civility pledge” for your classroom/school or group.
  • Review the area in your classroom/school that needs behavior improvement in the civility climate.
  • Take a few of these issues and develop ways/plans/action that the un-civility can decrease or end.
  • Place this code of civility on the wall.  Review progress throughout the school year.
  • Celebrate victories.  Pass on the Civility!


Look at one or more of the lists / guidelines for civil behavior on the resource list below. Use these as a model for creating a guideline for civil discourse in your own classroom.

Related lesson plans on RaceBridges site :

Resources to help you plan lessons about the topic  :

  • Dr. J.M. Forni, a professor who co-founded the John Hopkins Civility Project that aims “at assessing the significance of civility, manners and politeness in contemporary society.”  Forni authored two books on civility: Choosing Civility: Twenty-Five
    Rules of Considerate Conduct and The Civility Solution: What To Do When People Are Rude.
  • “From Enmity to Comity: Restoring Civility and Pride to American Life,” by Robert Fuller. This article addresses the root cause of incivility—fear—and
    argues for ways to return to civil political discourse where we don’t have to disagree but where all are respected.
  • Choose Civility: This website was created in response to the book Choosing Civility: Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct. There are a variety of resources there, including in-depth book lists for children, teens, and adults.
  • The Civility Project: This website seeks to encourage civility in the political arena. Contains a bibliography of books on civility and examples of civility and incivility in contemporary culture.

Many of the scholars who are exploring the issue of Civility
today focus on one of the ways of learning civility – which is to
explore other cultures and those people who are different than ourselves.