Denny Smith
Leadership and Development Trainer

We are saddened by the current toxic climate in America. Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of hate have again reared their ugly heads, threatening the very existence of our precious democracy. 

I invite all of us to consider this. These things are not new but have simply resurfaced; meaning that although they may have been dormant, they have been very much alive in the hearts and minds of far too many people. Our current climate and rhetoric have simply permitted people to be openly expressive about their underlying and already existing emotions. 

Before our disappointment in the current climate leads us to engage in finger-pointing and blame fixing, let us realize that it creates a new opportunity to fix the problem by curing its underlying causes. It is not the first time we have had to deal with this and, unfortunately, will probably not be the last. But as in the past, the field of education will be on the leading edge, and once again educators will accept the challenge to lead the way.

So, what is the underlying cause of our current political climate in America? Although there is never one single component, a major, and perhaps the primary cause of our divide, is hate speech. We need to come to grips with the fact that hate speech is hate speech, and it is a big business in America. We need to courageously hold our politicians, our religious leaders, our talk show hosts, and others who gain from fanning the flames of divisiveness accountable, then lead the charge for calm and respectful dialogue. Demanding that our own party leaders, our own clergy, and our own circle of friends replace flaming rhetoric with civil dialogue is imperative. It is sometimes difficult to confront an adversary; it is even more difficult to confront an ally.

It’s not just something we should do; it’s something we must do.

The word “imperative” is strong and we may question whether the above suggestions are really “imperative.” The answer: Only if we want to create a civil and harmonious America.

So, where does the field of education come in? Once again, educators will be on the leading edge of our society. We have faced similar challenges in the past and the field of education has provided leadership in bringing about civil and thoughtful discourse. It doesn’t mean we are going to agree on policy or methodology or political leanings, but it does mean that we will agree to remain calm and be respectful of other’s opinions. 

There is a tried and true method for making civility a reality without giving up the things that are important to you. Steer all conversations towards policies and issues, muster all of the emotional intelligence that you can, and maintain your poise. Ask everyone involved to calmly point out why they disagree, but eliminate judgment, sarcasm, finger-pointing, and name-calling. It’s not an easy thing to do, but effective leaders have been doing it for years. Your challenge is to become that kind of a leader.

As an educator, your primary concern lies with the students. Through skillful leadership and modeling of the aforementioned behaviors, you enlighten the hearts and minds of the young people that you teach, one student at a time.  

The benefits of creating a civil and harmonious America are summed up nicely by former President George W. Bush. “By working together to advance mutual understanding, we point the way to a brighter future for all.” Our task as educators is to promote the skill and instill the will to make it happen. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.

Let me close with an idea often shared to conclude many of my seminars. “You are an educator, and you DO make a difference.”

Denny Smith is a former teacher and coach, a motivational speaker, and an author committed to making our schools and communities safe and welcoming for all people. His free “Teachers Make the Difference” video series is available at or email

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