For the last five years Los Angeles and Chicago Constitutional Rights Foundation and the University of Minnesota have been implementing program called Deliberating in democracy in 10 countries across Europe, Asia and America. In September 2007, the pilot program was initiated in Serbia, and is being implemented by Civic Initiatives. It involves ten high school teachers from Belgrade, Uzice and Novi Pazar. Thanks to the exceptional receptions by both teachers and their students, we expect the continuation of very successful cooperation with even greater number of high schools next year.
As far as the actual program curriculum, it was designed to be implemented using the Structured Academic Controversy methodology, one type of Constructive learning. It encompasses following the instructions in an intellectual conflict, and its goal is promoting higher academic achievement, improved quality of conflict resolution process, decision making, critical thinking, reasoning, interpersonal relationships and general psychological wellbeing. During the Deliberation in democracy classes students are informed about the current events such as global warming or compulsory voting, and by learning to extract the most relevant and reliable information from the text, critically examining the available information, forming the arguments for and against, and having a structured dialogue, they are practicing active listening and deliberation. Deliberation is a meaningful discussion, exchange of ideas and argument analysis with the aim of being better informed and making decision. As in other academic controversies, the students attending the Deliberation classes are both engaged in examining and presenting their own stance, and in role reversal, in order to form a synthesis with which everyone can agree.
During the implementation of the program, all teachers attend the SAC training, and professional development sessions where they cover themes of their choice e.g. Presentation skills, facilitation etc. These gatherings are also used as an exchange of experiences in conducting the class itself, and the implementation in general. Some of the comments made by the participants include: "Exceptionally run seminar, open for every type of cooperation and flexible in every sense of the word", "Clear, effective and supportive...", "Gaining new skills while enjoying the company of others".
After three classes, covering compulsory voting, violent videogames, and global warming, students will be given an opportunity to communicate with their peers in L.A. via videoconference. They will use that opportunity to exchange experiences and views on the content and the process of deliberation, and will also share the information among themselves about their own culture. Videoconference is scheduled to take place in Belgrade on the 18th March. Teachers are to select 2-3 students who are to represent their class, and will ahead of time create a set of questions they will present to L.A. students.
In mid-March postgraduate research assistant from the University of Minnesotta will visit Serbia and conduct an evaluation of the program. It will include intervew with 2-3 teachers, project coordinator, and 2-3 focus groups with about 8 students.
Each year as part of DiD program, teachers exchange takes place between the partnering sites. At the end of March this year, group of teachers from Serbia will travel to Los Angeles and stay for a week where they will have an opportunity to observe deliberation classes in high schools, and visit various sites. In mid-April teachers from Serbia will host their collegues from America.