The experiment proves, that the willingness to sit down and listen to get to know the other person and their viewpoint greatly improves, once you solved a problem shoulder to shoulder together. How can we scale this? And boy do we need it. I read about a study that just came out showing that the distrust between Republicans and Democrats is larger than it is between Israelis and Palestinians. [Take that with a grain of salt, as I am struggling to find it. If you do please post in the comments.]
The Twin Towns or Sister Cities, as they are known in the US, movement really helped Europe to come together again after the devastation of the second world war. A couple of months ago I shared my idea in the Sister City Barn Raising post. Such a connection and cultural exchange would really lead to a greater understanding between liberals and conservative citizens. Now most larger cities even in the midwest tend to be democratic.
Look what is possible if everyone works together!
I have since refined my idea to do the exchange between high schools from red and blue voting districts and have the students work together on a project: Sister High School Barn Raising would be a week-long high-school exchange. I think 10th or 11th grade would be ideal. A predominantly liberal high-school connects with a high school from a mostly conservative area of the country. At the beginning of the school year, the classes connect via video conferencing and get to know each other.
Then they come up with a “barn raising” project that they would like to tackle when they are visiting each other later in the year. They are old enough to come up with such a project on their own. The focus of the project should be to create something that is for the benefit of the school or the larger community where the school is located. The rest of the school year is spent preparing for the two projects: making a budget; creating a project plan, securing the funding; learning the skills that are needed to succeed with the project, and so on.
Then, towards the end of the school year, when they visit each other for a week, they can hit the ground running, working shoulder to shoulder to create their “barn”. I envision a buddy system, that the students visiting are living in the families of their buddy from the other school, which also ensures a much deeper understanding of the circumstances of the other student.
At the end of each visiting week, there is going to be a big party where everyone, even non-school people, are invited to come and celebrate what the students created. Some of the students may have focused on the party all week, created food, rehearsed music together, maybe even developed a play or musical that they perform that night.
These two weeks of working and living together will open up the eyes of everyone involved. They will realize, that their hopes and dreams are not that far apart: Living a good life, raising a family, creating things, coming together, and celebrate. It would make such a difference. Let’s do it.
If you are interested in making Sister High School Barn Raising a reality may be in your local high school, please fill out this form. Having grown up in Germany, therefore not even having first-hand experience with the High School system here in the US, I don't think that I am the most qualified person to make this idea come to fruition. Which organization has as its mission to create greater understanding and collaboration among our youth? Ideally with close ties to school administrations. Please comment if you know of any and introduce them to Sister High School Barn Raising.