The "Can We?" Project

The Essential Question

While our nation faces many urgent challenges —including promoting economic opportunity, environmental sustainability, and social justice, while avoiding nuclear war—arguably none is as urgent as the need to strengthen our democratic institutions so that as a society we can meet these pressing challenges thoughtfully, effectively, and fairly. At the root of our great American dysfunction are our growing divisions along lines of identity and viewpoint; paralyzing rifts that have raised an essential question on which our future as a society depends:

Can we harness the wisdom and power inherent in the great diversity of the American people to revitalize our democracy, mend the social fabric, and live out the true meaning of the American promise of liberty and justice for all?

Last year, a team of Waynflete faculty, staff, and community members developed a cross-community response to this challenge. Drawing its name from this essential question, The Can We? Project seeks answers. In partnership the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the initial project brought together 29 youth from seven schools across Maine who represented a diverse range of backgrounds, political viewpoints, and life experiences. Over five months, the students worked together with experienced facilitators to learn to talk across deep divides, develop a shared vision of a better Maine, and design an interactive forum with political leadership. Students were asked to question their own ideas, challenge each other, and collaborate. In the process they developed basic democratic skills seemingly lost in this divisive moment: valuing dialogue, mediating differences, holding elected officials accountable, and working collectively for a higher purpose.

The result was powerful. Check out the short video linked here.

Next Steps

The Can We? Project’s unique value is its approach to political dialogue and active civic engagement through the lenses of self-examination, empathy, mediation, and collaboration. We believe that this model can and should be replicated in schools and communities across the country. We have invited seven independent schools from around the country, with a shared commitment to public service and an interest in dialogue across difference, to join us in running the second year of the Project. These schools will become collaborators and thought partners as we refine and improve the project design. This July, Waynflete will host a four-day incubator cohort training for faculty and administrators to introduce the project design, present the curricula, and brainstorm how best to implement the Project in each school community.

If you are interested in learning more about the project, please contact Jeannemarie Halleck, Can We? Project Director, at or 207.774.7863, ext. 1163.