Nashville educator Paula Pendergrass is teaching her students civility. Her lessons can help all of us

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Paula Pendergrass’ students do not follow rules; rather, they exercise their rights and meet their obligations.

These rights and obligations are laid out plainly on a poster at her Granbery Elementary School classroom in Brentwood.

Among the rights: to ask questions and to be treated respectfully.

Among the obligations: to speak loudly for others to hear and to listen in order to understand.

“My students know they have a right to have their ideas discussed and not themselves,” said the gifted students educator, who has taught school for 24 years.

She is modeling the essence of what it is to be civil and helping students frame arguments and engage in critical thinking so that they will practice those behaviors, too.

The Tennessean’s Civility Tennessee campaign marks its one-year anniversary in January, and while advocates have lauded the efforts to spur civil discourse and practice good citizenship, critics confuse civility with just being nice to each other.

Pendergrass shows that civility is much more than that, and it is a lesson that must be repeated daily.

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