Referencing an article that encouraged farmers to participate in discussions, Kansas State University professor Timothy Shaffer encouraged K-State Polytechnic students to consider the role public discussions have had in addressing public problems. He spoke at the monthly civic luncheon forum that is open to the public.
Shaffer asked those in attendance, “How do we think through wicked problems? We don’t fix them, we ameliorate them.” He then commended TALK Salina, a local group that promotes discussions around current issues facing this community.
Schaffer began his presentation referencing quotes from Thomas Jefferson who spoke of informing the public through education. To that end, New England has long used public meeting houses as the place to conduct business of interest to everyone in the community. Shaffer also referenced Chautauquas–both in New York and Kansas–as ways to help people stay informed and engaged.
Fast forwarding to the Great Depression, Shaffer highlighted materials developed by the US Department of Agriculture’s Extension Service. These materials focused on both the methods for generating discussion as well as topics. At that time, soil conservation, co-ops, farm security and taxes were popular topics in small forums held in local homes.
Turning toward current issues, Shaffer spoke about “campus carry”, where any adult will soon be able to carry a gun for personal protection on campus. He described efforts to get out the facts, help students identify values and then come up with strategies. Individuals can then formally act on those strategies by voting, or they can respond informally, by protesting.
Shaffer asked those in attendance if social media helped or hurt public deliberations. He said National Public Radio and other news sources are getting rid of the “comment section” that appears at the end of many posted news stories. Schaffer noted that “on-line trolls aren’t interested” in true conversations. He suggested that those who want to be part of an authentic, on-line discussion can go to the Kettering Foundation’s “Common Good for Action”. Six online discussions are planned over the next two weeks. TALK Salina will also continue to offer public discussions on topics of interest to this community.