Close Up Conversation #1C: Exploring American Identity

Overview
RECOMMENDED GRADE LEVELS: 6-8

What makes someone an American? What seems like a simple question may not be as obvious as you think. In fact, the question of what makes someone an American continues to be debated to this day. The questions and prompts below will guide a conversation that helps you pull together your understanding of each other’s communities and what it means to “be an American.” 

Round 1 (~4 minutes)

Overview and agreements

RECOMMENDED GRADE LEVELS: 6-8 What makes someone an American? What seems like a simple question may not be as obvious as you think. In fact, the question of what makes someone an American continues to be debated to this day. The questions and prompts below will guide a conversation that helps you pull together your understanding of each other’s communities and what it means to “be an American.”

Before every conversation, you will be asked to read and agree to the following coversation agreements:

 Be Curious and Open to Learning.
Listen to and be open to hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration and learning. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking.

Show Respect and Suspend Judgment.
Human beings tend to judge one another, do your best not to. Setting judgments aside will better enable you to learn from others and help them feel respected and appreciated.

Look for Common Ground and Appreciate Differences.
In this conversation, we look for what we agree on and simply appreciate that we will disagree on some beliefs and opinions.

Be Authentic and Welcome that from Others.
Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal and heartfelt experience. Be considerate to others who are doing the same.

Be Purposeful and to the Point.
Notice if what you are conveying is or is not “on purpose” to the question at hand. Notice if you are making the same point more than once.

Own and Guide the Conversation.
Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and the conversation by noticing what’s happening and actively support getting yourself and others back “on purpose” when needed.
Round 2 (~5 minutes)

Reestablish connections through culture

Get to know each other a bit better by sharing something personal. Each participant should answer one or more of the following questions: 

Does your family have any traditions? (Ex. Holidays, family trips, birthday celebrations, etc.) 
Does your school have any traditions? (Ex. Arts festivals, community service, etc.) 
Does your town/city or neighborhood have any traditions? (Ex. Parades, fairs, festivals, contests, etc.)
Round 3 (~30 minutes)

Explore "American" culture and identity

Share your views -- and listen openly to others' views -- on the assigned topic, without debating or trying to change anyone's opinion. Each participant should answer one or more of the following questions:

Is there one “American” culture, or are there many cultures in the United States? 
How would you describe an “American” culture? 
What are the benefits of having different cultures in the United States? What are some challenges? 
Do you think the values a person prioritizes are influenced by their cultural heritage or background? 
Are there any values that you think Americans agree on? If yes, what are those values? If not, what values do you think Americans disagree on? 
Is it important for all Americans to have the same values? Why or why not? 
What do you think influences most Americans’ values and opinions? (Ex. Entertainment, political leaders, the news media, social media, religion) 
How do those factors influence your opinions and beliefs and the opinions and beliefs of others in your community?
Round 4 (~10 minutes)

Reflect and share takeaways

Reflect on -- and share with other participants -- how it felt to join this conversation. Each participant should answer one or more of the following questions:

How are the culture(s) of your communities similar? How are they different? 
Were you surprised by any of the similarities and differences between the culture of your communities? Why or why not? 
What are you still curious about regarding your partner’s cultural heritage? 
How have all three of these conversations influenced the way you think about what it means to be an “American”?
Round 5 (~1 minutes)

Say goodbye

Say thank you and goodbye!