Teaching Controversial Issues

Issues that test the balance between ideas about individual freedom versus the common good are often controversial. Should we avoid such topics in the classroom? No! Democratic self-government requires constant discussions and decisions about controversial issues. There is an intrinsic and crucial connection between the discussion of controversial political issues and the health of democracy. If we want our students to become informed, engaged citizens, we need to teach them how to “do” democracy by practicing the skills of discussing controversial issues in the classroom and learning how to respectfully disagree. Controversy can be a useful, powerful, and memorable tool to promote learning.

Yet, teachers may consciously (or unconsciously) avoid controversial issues in the classroom because of the difficulty involved in managing heated discussions and/or for fear that parents will complain or that the school administration will admonish or punish them for “being controversial.” The Center offers resources and professional development workshops to help teachers protect themselves while engaging students in activities focused on controversial topics.

Teaching Controversial Issues: Teachers’ Freedom of Speech in the Classroom

Teaching Controversial Issues PDF