Teaching Controversy

The Democracy Education article by Diana Hess includes a recommendation from a Civic Mission of the Schools report, which suggests that schools incorporate discussion of current events at multiple levels. Students having the ability to discuss “local, national, and international” issues promotes greater interest in politics, improved critical thinking, communications skills, and civic knowledge. I can attest that such discussions promote student-centered learning, and can be very useful for building an engaged classroom. At Garner Magnet High School, we had a Paideia class which was centered around active discussions and research of current events. In this class, students were tasked with reading and annotating a series of documents before coming into class to discuss them. This type of discussion ensures that students are informed and prepared to add to the conversation. In this type of classroom, teachers act as moderators, asking questions and ensuring that the discussion stays civil and on track. In this manner, teachers can be a neutral party and avoid discussing their own opinions in favor of a student-focused learning session. The article mentions that feigning neutrality is impossible, but for teachers using the “balance” approach, playing the devil’s advocate for all viewpoints can promote critical thinking and more active discussion by students.

The strategy of privilege has teachers point toward a particular viewpoint as the clearly right answer. The article criticizes this method as being unbalanced and this can be interpreted as brainwashing students. Similarly, denial avoids teaching a certain topic as controversial. This method may be deceiving to students, as this also only teaches one side. I think that the best method is balance, as approaching an issue head-on with acceptance of varying opinions can be useful in fostering a constructive class discussion. For this method, teachers should take a neutral stance, and introduce common material for students to read and take notes on before a class discussion. This would ensure that all students are prepared to interact with the subject from an informed perspective.