Foundation in Focus: Recent civil-discourse program provides model for engaged, informed citizenry

Ken Krebs
Guest columnist

The New Albany Community Foundation, through its New Albany Lecture Series and in partnership with the New Albany Center for Civil Discourse and Debate, recently conducted a virtual program that featured two well-known political figures, David Axelrod and Chris Christie.

Axelrod served as a key adviser to President Barack Obama, and Christie is a former New Jersey governor who advised President Donald Trump.

Ken Krebs is a member of the New Albany Community Foundation board of trustees.

Thousands accessed the Jan. 27 program. Many submitted questions. And although I’m certain that not everyone who listened to the program agreed with every view expressed during the conversation, it provided a refreshing portrait of what political discourse in our country could and should be.

The program offered a free and open exchange of views and ideas. Each speaker’s views were often in opposition to his counterpart. And yet the conversation was respectful and constructive.

It presumed that the people listening to the conversation were capable of digesting the information, applying what they learned to their internal deliberations and arriving at their own conclusions.

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 lecture series program on civil discourse was moderated skillfully by Colleen Marshall, an Emmy Award-winning local television anchor, host of political talk show “The Spectrum” and a skilled, practicing attorney.

Axelrod and Christie also participated in a student-engagement session with thousands of students from central Ohio schools. Our hope is that the students benefit from the experience and this model.

This was the third program presented as part of the New Albany Center for Civil Discourse and Debate. The center was established by the Derrow family through a fund at the community foundation. Its goal is to provide a platform for students and residents to come together to discuss opposing views freely, passionately and respectfully.

Phil Derrow, who is a New Albany-Plain Local Schools board member, has worked with district leaders to expand curriculum that instructs students in, some would say, the “lost art” of debate and argument. To coincide with the launch of the series, the district formed debate teams in the high school and middle school.

We are grateful to the Derrows for their civic engagement, to the various school districts for participating, to Marshall for skillfully moderating the discussion and to all the community foundation donors who make this kind of extraordinary programming possible.

Ken Krebs is a member of the New Albany Community Foundation board of trustees.