Controversial Issues in Teaching

The conversation that Diana E. Hess facilitates with this article merits much nuance. While most scholars would likely agree that a balanced pedagogical approach to controversial topics is the best way to teach, true “balance” is nearly impossible, as Hess recognizes. Every teacher is going to have subconscious biases that will appear in their teaching. Even neutrality may be interpreted as picking a side when such intense differences in power dynamics are at play. In other words, neutrality can be an enabling force, especially in politics. As Hess asks one of her colleagues, “’Why do you want to be a non-political political role model’?” That is my exact same thought on this issue. While I do understand the value of refraining from bias in the classroom, I cannot go against my own values just for the sake of remaining “neutral” or “unbiased.” Therefore, it is my personal philosophy that teachers should be allowed to express their own views, as long as they are actively encouraging students to challenge those views. That being said, I think Hess is correct in identify the incorrect ways to show bias. For example, denial–or assuming that there is a “correct” answer to an issue and therefore refusing to discuss it–is intellectually pacifying. Our job as educators of the next generation is to inform them of all the facts, even if there is a seemingly correct moral answer.

Teaching controversy will never be easy, but we have an obligation and civic responsibility to keep our students well-informed in an age of mass misinformation. At the end of the day, teachers need to use their best judgement to approach a controversial topic, just as they would with any other topic.