THE MILL CENTER
We turn down the heat on controversial topics so educators and students can untangle complex issues together.
What is The Mill Center?
The Mill Center is a non-profit organization that works in educational settings to teach the skills needed to inspire intellectual risk-taking, expand empathy, and deepen conversations.
What Drives Us
“It often feels like we are exchanging ignorance rather than knowledge when we discuss controversial issues. As students, we are not primed to have healthy intellectual discussion.”
-Sian, age 16
In recent years, it has become more difficult to build bridges across ideological divides. Too many people affirm their beliefs by surrounding themselves with media, social groups, and institutions that shield them from contrasting perspectives. Dismissing divergent ideas (and the people who hold them) as wrong-headed or ill-intentioned has become common.
We are also prone to self-censorship, which makes building bridges even harder. According to the New York Times, more than 60% of 18-34 year olds in America have held back opinions in the past year for fear of retaliation. In another survey, 63% of college students agreed that the climate on their campus prevents people from saying things that they believe.
We need a new model for engaging with complex issues.
Building stronger and more compassionate communities requires us to understand the underlying logic of others’ opinions, even those with whom we disagree. It also requires us to see the possibility that our own deeply held beliefs may not always be right.
In order to build better solutions to our global challenges, we need a diversity of thought, ideas, and approaches. We need people who can think in ways that are curious, constructive, surprising, and brave.
At The Mill Center, we advance this kind of thinking.
Developing stronger and more compassionate communities requires us to understand the perspectives and underlying logic of others’ opinions, even those with whom we disagree. It requires us to be willing and able to challenge our own deeply held beliefs. In order to build better solutions to our global challenges, we need a diversity of thought, ideas, and approaches. We need people who can think in ways that are creative, constructive, surprising, and brave.
We work to activate these kinds of thinkers.
What We Offer
Projects that explore people’s experiences with expressing different perspectives and capture best practices for creating open and tolerant learning communities
Multimedia tools that use real-world examples and frameworks to build a more open classroom culture
Learning sessions for educators who want to create the conditions for classroom conversations that expand students’ knowledge-building capacities
What students have said about The Mill Center’s approach:
"This course has been an outstanding exploration of the dichotomy between bigots and snowflakes and between extremes of the political spectrum as well as, and possibly more importantly, the middle and the grey areas. My biggest takeaways…are the importance of humility and admitting when you do not know something, the importance of diversity of opinions and ideas (especially when those ideas are contrary to mainstream thought), and a reinforced understanding that nothing is quite as black and white as it is often made out to be."
"As a result of completing this course, I can confidently say that I am ending the semester with more critical thinking skills than I came in with. And to be frank, I believe that I acquired more critical thinking skills in this course than any other in my four years at Illinois. The key takeaways from this course were learning how to consider both sides of an issue, learning how to identify a dominant ideology, and using reason to arrive at my convictions."
"This class has taught me so much about how to approach conversations differently, and I’ve already seen things we’ve discussed in class become important in my interactions outside of class."
"Upon taking this class, I can say I learned how to have more productive arguments on political topics. I was the person who could simply not talk politics with someone of the opposing side without accusing them in my head of being racist. I loved the way this class challenged me to think in a different perspective than what I was used to."
"I feel that [this] was a very informative class and it helped me to develop new ways of thinking from different perspectives as well as gaining insight into many facets of social problems, specifically within the United States of America (U.S.)…I was not exactly sure what to expect in regards to the topics we would be discussing, the class layout and more, but after a few weeks in I grew to love the class and the way we discussed controversial topics within the class as a whole…I appreciate this class and you as a Professor for allowing us as students to be able to openly express ourselves and our opinions on diverse/controversial topics, especially us students of color."
Advance Praise for Our Teacher Institute!