Third Thought

Initiatives for Civic Engagement

What are we trying to do?

With the support of a $250,000 matching grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation, Waynflete has instituted Third Thought Initiatives for Civic Engagement, which is intended to channel the energy and capacity of young people as the antidote to what is currently dividing us as a nation and paralyzing our political processes. It is based on 1) the currently countercultural premise that diversity of thought and experience is a source of wisdom (not a threat) and thus should be valued instead of feared; and 2) the belief that young people can be trusted to lead conversations that bridge the divides on the most pressing issues of our day.

The name was inspired by a participant in one of our initiatives, The “Can We?” Project, who said of her experience, “I learned to say my third thought.” According to Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, when confronted with a moral question, most of us will first respond emotionally and then construct a rationale to justify our initial response. Thus, to generate true insight into such questions, we must get to at least our third thought, which has been informed by careful listening and deep reflection.

How do we do it?

We aspire to 1) create, refine, and sustain a unique set of school based initiatives that invite youth to reflect on their own experiences, learn from the perspectives of others, and take action on issues that matter to them and 2) share models for civic engagement that schools across the country may adopt.

Here is a brief overview of the current Third Thought initiatives:

Click the tabs below to learn more about Third Thought programs:

The "Can We?" Project

An experiment in revitalizing democracy by teaching students from communities across Maine dialogue across difference. Partners include the Maine Heritage Policy Center and a wide range of local high schools.

Interested in keeping up to date with The "Can We?" Project? Join our email list.

The "Can We?” Project - Summer Institute

Waynflete is far from the only school working to build civic knowledge and civic capacities. As politics get more divisive, schools are increasingly wary of inviting conflict. Studies differ for the reasons why; however, avoiding the difficult conversations is inauthentic and counter-productive to quality education and to our democracy. Students and teachers want to be able to have conversations about politics and values—it's everywhere! So they need the skills. Waynflete has the unique opportunity of being ahead of the game regarding dialogue and is willing to share curricula, projects, and lessons learned through engaging conversation with schools around the country. 

With that in mind and based on our experience with The “Can We?” Project, Waynflete initiated a national conversation on engaging youth in political dialogue. In July 2019, we hosted a four-day gathering of teams of teachers and administrators from six independent schools across the country that share a commitment to public purpose and promoting dialogue. Schools and communities across the nation can and should create initiatives for civic engagement that support youth in tapping the wisdom and power inherent in diverse viewpoints. The primary goal of this initiative is to broaden the conversation to include educators from different parts of the country as thought partners and collaborators, and host faculty and student trainings as part of the effort to cultivate in youth the essential skills of democracy.

Click here to learn more about The "Can We?” Project Summer Institute on Dialogue and Civic Engagement.

The New England Youth Identity Summit

The two-day New England Youth Identity Summit brings together close to 400 students from more than 30 schools across the region to immerse themselves in meaningful conversations about identity, diversity, and community.

The Dialogue Project

The Waynflete Dialogue Project is intended to make dialogue a keystone habit among Upper School students by explicitly teaching them the skills of dialogue and giving students the opportunity to practice. As part of the Dialogue Project, Waynflete invited The Defamation Experience to campus and worked with Narrative 4 to train 27 student facilitators who then led an Upper School-wide story exchange.

American Democracy and Civic Engagement (MSON)

A network of schools across the country that provides motivated, upper-level students with a variety of intensive academically challenging courses beyond what would normally be available to them.

  • Learn about Waynflete's online course, "American Democracy and Civic Engagement."

For more information about Third Thought, send us an email or join the email list.