TALK TO ME: Americans in Conversation

Conversation Organizers' Guide

In some circles, talk is cheap. But in the next few years, it may become our country's most valuable asset. Not just any kind of talk, but genuine civic discourse: the talk of engaged citizens who care about the country and the community they live in, people who don't always understand their fellow Americans, but would like to. People like me, and like you.

-- Rosemary Bray, in her "American Stories" essay


We hope you'll find this guide useful in planning conversations about TALK TO ME: Americans in Conversation with your community group or school class. For a more focused conversation, we strongly recommend a 4-part approach based on the themes outlined below -- either in one longer conversation, or two or more shorter ones.

If you're interested in exploring these ideas further, be sure to check out the extensive discussion guide materials for the A More Perfect Union project prepared by Study Circles Resource Center and AMPU consultant Marci Reaven.

Additional materials are available by contacting Arcadia Pictures, 157 W. 79th Street, New York NY 10024 USA, phone 212/580-4998 or fax 212/580-1853.

Starting Where We Are:

Who are we? Where do we come from?

Suggestions for using TALK TO ME:

  1. Screen or refer to the opening 6 minutes of the program, where different people talk about their personal backgrounds. Segment ends at approximately 6:10 with John Kuo Wei Tchen saying,
    Where am I from? That's the question I've asked myself all my life.
  2. Ask participants to go around the room and briefly describe where they and their families are from. Include regions of the U.S. as well as other countries.

Other Approaches: Start the conversation by sharing photographs, objects, family stories or sayings that reflect something important about who each participant is and where he or she comes from. Or you can use maps of the U.S. and the world to explore the ancestry of group members, and how many different regions are represented by the conversation group.

Visions of America:

What are American values? What holds us together?

Suggestion for using TALK TO ME:

  1. Screen or refer to the brief segment that begins at approximately 16:55 -- with the shot of outer space -- where Rosemary Bray uses a Star Trek episode to talk about the Constitution.

    Segment ends at approximately 18:53, with the close-up of the tear-stained woman (from the 1950 Robert Taylor film, The Devil's Doorway).

  2. Suggested discussion questions:

Other Approaches: Make a list of the most important values you believe you share with other Americans, then take turns sharing them with the conversation group. How many participants listed the same values? Is there general agreement in the group? Are any values in dispute?

Bonds and Boundaries:

What is community? Where do we find it?

Suggestion for using TALK TO ME:

  1. Screen or refer to the short sequence on communities in the old West, which begins at approximately 25:57 with the shot of a train going by, and historian John Mack Faragher saying,
    Americans have actually had some trouble...
    Segment ends at approximately 26:43, just before the present-day quilting scene.

  2. Suggested discussion questions:

Other Approaches: Encourage group members to talk about the places in your area that have special meaning for the communities that they feel part of. Ask them to describe how and why these places are special. If your conversation group designed a tour of your area, what places would be included?

Making a Difference:

What would be "a more perfect union"?

Suggestion for using TALK TO ME:

  1. Screen or refer to the segment that starts with The Wizard of Oz ("we're not in Kansas any more") at approximately 51:20, which includes a discussion about America as a land without ghosts, and what "a more perfect union" means.

    Segment ends approximately 54:00 with the words "...toward this possibility of perfection."

  2. Suggested discussion questions:

Other Approaches: Decide if you or your group would like to continue exploring these topics -- through further discussion, or through activities in your community.

Go to Toward a More Perfect Union in an Age of Diversity:
A Guide to Building Stronger Communities through Public Dialogue

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