Aspen Institute, Facing History and Ourselves and Allstate Create the New Town Hall to Encourage Civil Discourse in Divided Country

June 6, 2017

The Better Arguments Project will encourage Americans to engage each other in better, more productive debates about core American ideals.

Caroline Hopper
The Aspen Institute
202.721.2337 |

Washington, DC, June 6, 2017 – The Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program (CAI), Facing History and Ourselves, and The Allstate Corporation today announced the launch of the Better Arguments Project, a national series of town hall meetings to encourage Americans to engage each other in better, more productive debates about core American ideals.

On the heels of the recent US presidential election, which exposed deep divisions in the country, many people have recognized the need to heal schisms, repair the social fabric, and restore trust and civility in public discourse.

“American civic life today doesn’t need fewer debates; it needs better debates. We aim to make that possible,” said Eric Liu, executive director of CAI. “Remember: America doesn’t just have arguments; America is an argument—between Federalist and Anti-Federalist world views, strong national government and local control, liberty and equality, individual rights and collective responsibility, color-blindness and color-consciousness, Pluribus and Unum.”

These topics—the core American arguments—will be explored through spirited town halls intended to demonstrate that having these discussions can be both fun and productive. A unique and distinguishing feature of the Better Arguments Project is its traveling format, engaging communities around the country and emerging from ideas and conversations with local community advisors. Open to the public, the town halls will be driven by creativity and shared exploration through supplemental readings, videos, and discussions with featured thought leaders from the worlds of politics, culture, and media.

The project’s goals are to encourage people to reach across political, cultural, and economic divides, listen to each other, and engage in respectful debate. As part of their work, project partners will develop tools for communities to engage in discussions of their own. The three partners hope the town halls will become a model for civic engagement.

“American civic life is only as healthy as the willingness of its citizens to participate in all its forms, whether it’s volunteering for a cause, joining a demonstration, or voting,” added Liu.

“Our society is changing and we need to strengthen our ability to collectively as a country adapt to changing circumstances in the United States and abroad. In a time when this country has never been more diverse and polarized and when its role in the world is rapidly shifting, the question of what it means to be American—and how we create a sustainable story of ‘us’— is of prime consequence.”

Planning for the Better Arguments Project will kick off this summer. Project partners will begin by identifying up to 10 diverse communities and developing a format for the town halls, which will take place in 2018 and 2019.

For more than 40 years, Facing History and Ourselves has worked in middle school and high school classrooms, providing tools for teachers and students to think critically about the impact of significant historical events. Facing History challenges students to make connections between choices made in history and the choices they make today. A broad range of studies demonstrate the impact of Facing History’s curriculum in improving student civic engagement, motivating learning and empowering students to constructively address social conflicts.

“Schools and classrooms are microcosms of the larger community and of democracy in action,” said Roger Brooks, president and CEO of Facing History and Ourselves. “Facing History is empowering young people to become active participants today to better inform their civic engagement in the future. We’re proud to partner with CAI and Allstate in this significant endeavor that encourages us all to respect our social and cultural differences.”

For its part, Allstate has a storied history of engaging in societal causes: through The Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young initiative, Allstate is encouraging youth to step up as leaders in their communities and become civically engaged. For the past 12 years, the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse campaign has empowered more than 1 million domestic violence survivors in their recovery from abuse. And for the last year, Allstate has partnered with The Atlantic on The Renewal Project, which includes a digital newsroom, awards program, and event series, to support and celebrate efforts of ordinary people coming together to renew their communities.

“At Allstate, it is our purpose to help people realize their hopes and dreams. We bring people together to strengthen local communities and society, said Stacy Sharpe, Allstate’s senior vice president of corporate relations. “The Better Arguments Project is a natural extension of our work to listen to and inspire Americans across the country to drive positive change.”

The Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program (CAI)
CAI focuses on the challenge of sustaining strong citizenship in America and coherent national identity in an age of demographic flux and rising economic inequality. The program encompasses a range of cross-partisan activity, from workshops and public forums to leadership summits and seminar-style discussions.

Facing History and Ourselves
Facing History is a global educational organization that reaches millions of students worldwide every year. Using the lessons of history—and history in the making—Facing History equips teachers to provide students with the skills to think critically and wrestle with difficult issues. Teachers work closely with students to make personal connections between the past and their present. Our rigorous curriculum sparks their desire to look beyond themselves and participate in the broader world. Facing History is creating future generations of engaged, informed, and responsible decision-makers who when faced with injustice, misinformation, and bigotry, will stand up for justice, truth, and equality. Facing History transforms required lessons in history into inspired lessons in humanity, empowering youth who will change the world for the better.

The Allstate Corporation
The Allstate Corporation (NYSE: ALL) is the nation’s largest publicly held personal lines insurer, protecting approximately 16 million households from life’s uncertainties through auto, home, life, and other insurance offered through its Allstate, Esurance, Encompass and Answer Financial brand names. Allstate is widely known through the slogan “You’re In Good Hands With Allstate®.” Allstate agencies are in virtually every local community in America.

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