Common Ground Thinking Curriculum

Common Ground Thinking:
Working Together Beyond Our Deepest Differences

A five-hour workshop, created and presented by Wayne Jacobsen


At the end of this workshop, each participant will be able to—

  • understand the climactic changes in our society that have spawned the so-called ‘culture wars’ and learn what they can do to be a bridge builder between diverse groups in their community.
  • discover how First Amendment ideals and the unique environment of public education can help us learn to respect our differences and build an environment where these groups can work together for the benefit of all students.
  • learn how to communicate with various groups in your community in ways that disarms conflict and builds mutual respect.
  • learn how to use Common Ground Thinking to facilitate Fourth Option agreements by helping diverse groups negotiate for the highest possible consensus.

Course Outline

Introduction: Life at Ground Zero

1. The Fourth Option: From Adversarial to Cooperative Decision-Making

  • First option: demand my way
  • Second option: Concede to your way
  • Third option: Settle for lowest common denominator compromise
  • Fourth option: Collaborate to find highest possible consensus where we can

2. The Clash of Worldviews and Claims of Conscience

3. The Shifting Common Ground: Understanding the Cultural Forces That Have Converged on Our Time:

  • Until 1963: The Sacred Public Square
  • Since 1963: The Naked Public Square
  • Since 1994: Crafting the Civic Public Square with Common Ground Thinking.

Part 2: Getting it Right!

1. Common Ground Thinking is built on the Supreme Court Interpretation of the First Amendment applied to the states via the ‘due process’ clause of the 14th Amendment

  • The Lemon Test
  • The Sherbert Test

2. Common Ground Thinking is built on respect for the unique environment of public education—‘captive’ minors.

3. Common Ground Thinking is built on a growing consensus among diverse religious and nonreligious groups—

Part 3: The Rules of Engagement for Cultural and Religious Conflicts

Rule #1: You can’t force people to change their worldview.

Rule #2: Vilifying those who disagree with you says more about you than it does about them.

Rule #3: Allowing divergent views does not validate those views

Rule #4: You best protect your civic freedoms by protecting those of people who disagree with you.

Rule #5: If you do not include all of the stakeholders you cannot fix the problem

Rule #6: Cooperation cannot require compromise of our deepest convictions

Rule #7: The best solutions arise from seeking highest possible consensus—the Fourth Option

Part 4: Reaching for the Fourth Option: The Common Ground Process for Conflict Resolution

1. Laying the Groundwork: Pro-actively Establish a Common Ground Environment

2. The Common Ground Process: Reaching the Highest Possible Consensus

  • Step One: Identify whether this is a Common Ground problem or need
  • Step Two: Form a task force or subcommittee and invite representatives from all the stakeholders in this issue.
  • Step Three: Stop! Set the ground rules for how we will dialogue.
  • Step Four: Look! Research
  • Step Five: Listen
  • Step Six: Reach for Highest Possible Consensus
  • Step Seven: Inform the Community

Specific adaptations of this workshop are available for specific audiences, such as those who teach health/family-life, science or social studies.