The recent visit to the New Albany community by Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, provided a refreshing portrait of what political discourse in our country could and should be.
The conversation was in stark contrast to the vitriol and divisiveness we all too frequently witness in political commentary and talk shows in the current era of American politics.
The New Albany Community Foundation's Jefferson Series program Jan. 28 was moderated skillfully by Paul Beck, emeritus professor of political science at Ohio State University.
Gingrich and Jarrett participated in a student-engagement event, as well, with nearly 1,000 students representing 29 central Ohio schools. In discussing the program, Jarrett commented that New Albany's efforts to promote civil discourse should be modeled "in schools, on college campuses and on factory floors across America."
The community foundation donated books authored by Gingrich and Jarrett to all of the students in advance of the discussion. As a result, the students were informed and prepared, which led to great questions and insightful responses from the speakers.
The students also were attentive and respectful throughout the engagement.
The two veterans of Washington, D.C., politics offered different perspectives and views on an array of subjects related to democracy in America and the role government and the electorate should play. Although their positions often were very different, they were courteous to one another and respectful of each other's views -- and even friendly. It was apparent they shared a mutual respect.
The Gingrich-Jarrett program was the second Jefferson Series lecture as part of the New Albany Center for Civil Discourse and Debate.
The center was established by the Derrow family through a community foundation fund to provide a platform for students and residents to come together to discuss opposing views freely, passionately and respectfully. It provides a forum in which everyone can explore different perspectives on sometimes controversial subjects and ultimately arrive at their own conclusions.
Phil Derrow, who is a school board member, has worked with New Albany-Plain Local School District leaders to expand curriculum that instructs students in, some would say, the "lost art" of debate and argument. To that end, the school district recently established debate teams in the high school and middle school. Already those teams are competing at a high level.
We are grateful to the Derrows for their civic engagement, and we are appreciative of all the Jefferson Series and Remarkable Evening sponsors who make this kind of extraordinary programming possible.
Ken Krebs serves on the New Albany Community Foundation board of trustees.