I am Afraid to Address Controversial Topics in My Classes

Worried Teacher- https://study.com/blog/how-to-have-a-great-first-day-as-a-substitute-teacher.html

Dr. David J. Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Teaching in a Divided Nation
With the US being divided and polarized along ideological, social, racial and political lines the idea of addressing controversial topics may seem very intimidating to teachers. Indeed, with many hot button issues being at the forefront of all of our minds, many teachers choose to barely even broach certain subjects. In fact, some teachers may avoid controversial subjects altogether. They tip-toe around topics such as racism, sexual assault, censorship, abortion, gay marriage or gender equality out of fear that they will get into trouble with their administrators or receive backlash from parents. Or teachers feel inadequately prepared to delve into certain topics. However, students often are confronted with these issues everyday and they need some sort of outlet, platform or safe space to process all that is going on around them. And what better space to deal with these topics than a middle grades or high school classroom.

Good Teaching Can be Messy
Good teaching can often be messy but that does not mean it is bad teaching. When approached the right way “classrooms can be welcoming spaces for students to test-drive their ideas and to see disagreement as an opportunity to learn, not as a form of conflict.” Social studies, language arts and even journalism classrooms can be “ideal incubators for facilitating constructive dialogue on today’s most divisive issues—from immigration… to religious and cultural tolerance… to the relative powers and functions of our three branches of government.”

A Roadmap for Controversial Teaching
I-Civics has prepared materials to address controversial topics. Teachers will find helpful resources in the section called Your Roadmap for Teaching Controversial Issues. I-Civics has created “five Teacher Guides and a series of brief informational videos” that equip teachers to address controversial topics in their classrooms.

Discussion Questions
A. How early should teachers introduce controversial topics in class? Are elementary students too young? Is Kindergarten too young? Why or why not?

B. What are some real obstacles or barriers for teachers as it relates to teaching controversial topics in class?

C. In what ways can controversial topics be integrated into a science or math curriculum?


  1. I agree that it is intimidating to discuss many controversial topics in the classroom, but oftentimes I think it is necessary. Students are going to hear these conversations in other places and form their own opinions, having the outlet of a classroom to decide their stance it very beneficial.

  2. This article is intriguing! Especially when I consider how controversial Social Studies and sub-topics and subjects tied-into Social Studies can be when referring to political matters. There is a clear division in our nation; we are divided based on talking points, based on belief-systems, based on ethnicity, skin color, and social and political ideologies. To a degree, I think it is fine to be controversial, to teach about subjects that some teachers may be afraid to barely touch in their classroom; although, it may take experience to understand how to approach certain ideologies and ideas in our classrooms. Controversial topics such as: gay marriage, racial divide in the nation, social and political divide, media censorship, and abortion should be avoided at the elementary level o education, but slowly introduced into the middle grades and most definitely involved with secondary education.

    I am heading into Social Studies secondary education and I believe that issues surrounding gay marriage, abortion, and racial divide should not be ignored and why is that? Well, do we want to keep repeating history with social injustice riots and protests; or do we want to encourage change and adaptation in our young students’ minds and future authority and leadership in our nation? One can be afraid of potential ‘backlash’ from administration and parents/guardians without being afraid to brush up – at least a LITTLE bit upon these issues surrounding our world, today.
    The biggest obstacle or ‘barrier’ as a teacher when relating it to teaching controversial topics in a class is that of the backlash from the parents and administration. This could hurt the credibility of some young and newly equipped middle grades and secondary teachers. I would not recommend teaching many of these topics under middle grades based on possible misunderstanding in the classroom.

    For example, I think if an elementary teacher is providing information about the current racial protests and how we as critical and civic leaders can help prevent such protests outside of the classroom; then this may not bode as well in an elementary classroom. There could be discussion involved in middle grades education, there can be role playing and projects that can portray situations to help our students understand what is happening in the world – through middle and secondary grades education, relating to such controversial topics.

    Do not get me wrong, I am terrified of losing my job based on saying the wrong controversial topic – so what will I do? Not teach the topic, until I brainstorm a way with my administration and students that could lead to a better social and political environment in the future. I want to promote civic and political justice in my classroom; all while encouraging my students to stand up for what THEY BELIEVE is right and have a clear and better understanding on how to go about promoting change in AND for their nation.

  3. Last year my kindergarten student told his teacher that Donald Trump was a bad man. She said he was not, which upset my little guy. I can understand why she couldn’t agree, parents would be all over her. I’m sure she didn’t expect 6 year olds would bring this up.

  4. This article was very insightful for any young teacher discussing civics or politics in the classroom. There is a thin line between discussing those topics and spreading beliefs. However, I believe teachers should provide facts for both sides of controversial topics. Then students should use those facts and do some of their own research to decide which side they stand on the topic. There is a lot that can be learned not only by the students but also by the teacher when discussing some controversial topics. Understanding how students view the world will help the teacher make connections with the students when discussing other topics in class. Also students learning to compromise and agree to disagree will really help the future of our democracy, because Americans today seem to not have those skills.

  5. I think that this article addresses a very important issue that teachers face when trying to talk about current events. It is important for teachers to not choose a certain side when talking about these different issues and laying out different points from each side to further the students knowledge so that they are able to have these conversations because they have been educated on the topic. disagreements will happen and not everyone will agree on these tough topics but it is important for students to be able to have civil discussions. By teaching these tough topics it will impact how students go about talking about these subjects in their daily lives.

  6. This article really grabbed my attention because it is one of my biggest questions/fears to not know what not to talk about in the classroom. My favorite line of this article is “…see disagreement as an opportunity to learn, not as a form of conflict.” That is another thing that I struggle with in life: constantly avoiding conflict. If I can help my students to not fear conflict, that would be really great. This was a helpful article to read in preparing for my future classroom!

  7. The current state of the United States certainly makes this discussion more pertinent than usual. I think the article does a good job in addressing the importance of including these topics into the classroom environment even though they may be controversial; it is a conversation that should happen. Realistically, it is also one students will encounter in real-life at some point, and they will most likely have questions or beliefs formed over them. Managing those opinions can be a delicate balancing act, but one that is absolutely imperative to an inclusive setting. As for the appropriate age level, I believe that there is not necessarily a correct answer. Reasoning can vary on a case-by-case basis, with some children being exposed to difficult concepts like death very early in their lives. Ideally, I think it is a discussion that occurs as students age–perhaps around sixth grade–but it can easily fluctuate depending on the circumstances.

  8. I agree that high school and even middle grades are appropriate times to start a dialogue around controversial topics. I feel that as an educator, you must know your audience. Of course, you’re not going to go into a rural school and start trashing Donald Trump. However, you can open up a healthy dialogue about certain statements he has made or policies he has pushed that aren’t intended to benefit certain groups and why that is. There could be that one student in your classroom that had felt ostracized from his peers and now is more comfortable and tuned into your class. Last semester I was placed at a bit more of a rural school, where the teacher was a football coach so he had built that relationship with his students and players in and outside of the classroom. He told me that one of his players had stated “I’m the whitest black guy you know” and he simply had a conversation with the student in private and addressed the underlying assumptions behind a statement like that. It can be as simple as that. I don’t speak for everyone, but I attended an urban high school and benefited from knowing about the world around me before I stepped foot onto a more “liberal” campus. One of the first classes I walked into my Junior year, my professor had a dry-erase mug that read something along the lines of, “the past is political” and I’ve never smiled harder.

  9. Hello,
    Awesome article! Growing up in rural Indiana, nothing controversial was talked about in class. Whether it would be out of politeness or purely because it did not align with the educators personal beliefs, this discussions did not happen. Because of that, many students grow up not knowing about different beliefs and this (usually) ultimately leads them to believe that their beliefs are superior in a way, because their beliefs the only ones discussed. One of the most human things to do is to disagree, but still learn/understand what you are disagreeing with. As educators in such a rampant age, I think that this is one of the most important skills we can teach our students.

  10. This was an interesting read and one such line which stuck out to me the most referred to some teachers fears of being “inadequately prepared” to discuss contentious issues. Where I consider myself knowledgeable about most subjects, contentious or otherwise, I don’t consider myself to be “qualified” to speak on all matters. I may “know” about the trials and tribulations of African-American citizens, or victims of sexual abuse, or xenophobia etc. However, my knowledge of such issues does not (and should not) qualify me to speak on behalf of said people. How am I to lead a class in a subject matter that I, myself am qualified for? This was a great read and certainly offered some food for thought!

  11. I think certain controversial topics should start being addressed or even just identified in elementary school. Students should be exposed to them at the very least so they can become knowledgeable and develop their own opinions about them. However topics such as abortion should not be addressed in elementary, due to the topic being not age appropriate.

  12. In his article titled “I am Afraid to Address Controversial Topics in My Classes”, Dr. David Childs confronts the harsh reality that America is very polarized right now, whether it be politically, racially, economically, or otherwise. As a future Social Studies educator, I think part of developing students who are productive citizens relies on being able to discuss controversial topics in a safe setting. As Dr. Childs notes in his article, many students need the safe space and platform to discuss issues that many teachers may shy away from because of backlash from parents or administrators. As a private sector employee, I cannot remember how many times we have had discussions at work that management has told us to stop because someone may get offended. That is understandable, but a classroom should be an environment that fosters this dialogue, not stifles it. I think it is important to make sure that if you are to broach a controversial topic, to have a game plan in place, such as rules that the students must follow (i.e. no name calling). I think it is also important, unless the conversation is impromptu, to let the administration know that you are planning to teach and discuss a controversial subject so that you can have their full support should there be parental backlash.

  13. This article is almost a relief to read. As a future educator, it worries me that I will have to address such topics in the classroom because nearly every person has differing views. These days it seems that no matter how you teach something of this nature, someone will not be happy or will go above your head to complain about the lesson you taught. Sometimes it is not difficult to fear the worst which would include the loss of your job. In one of my past student teaching experiences my cooperating teacher asked me to write a lesson plan for a book which dealt with racism. I wrote the lesson and was even proud of it. It seemed like my best one yet. However, I never got to teach it because of Covid and, while I hate to admit it, I was relieved. I had no doubt in my mind that the lesson itself was safe and only discussing facts that could be backed up by evidence. There was none of my opinion involved and that was difficult to do. I was worried the most about questions I would be asked by these curious fifth graders because you cannot plan for every question and you need to respond on the spot. I worried that I would respond to something in the wrong way and that that would reflect negatively in the eyes of the college professor who was observing me. I must admit, after reading this article, it helps a little to know that some other, more experienced teachers are in the same boat. Now that I know this it will be easier for me to take this knowledge and feel more comfortable when asking for help from my coworkers. Hopefully teachers can help each other and pull their resources so that we can ultimately give students the best possible education about these subjects possible.

  14. Andrew Boehringer
    Democracy and Me – Week 4 – Response #3

    Racism has always been a difficult topic to discuss in the classroom in the South, primarily because some areas are still arguing that the Civil War as not fought over slavery. In the North it doesn’t always seem an issue, but Black and Hispanic history are not seen as a priority. Both racism and gender issues seem to have become hot topics because they have become politicized depending on the context of the conversation. As evidence of this political polarization, people use euphemisms and coded language to hide their viewpoints. In the same vein, teaching on these topics in the classroom has become equally difficult as teachers are worried about being misinterpreted. I feel that the best way to approach some of these issues is to provide multiple viewpoints, but highlight portions of difficult modern issues that are clear inequalities by using historical primary sources.

  15. When it comes to the issue of addressing confrontational topics in the classroom I have a bit of a mixed opinion. As a person, I desperately want to give my students the outlet to talk about these issues in a safe space where they’re allowed to hold any opinion. On the other hand, I know that sometimes in certain places in the US doing so would get me fired. Parents don’t always like when teachers open the floor to discussion and can and sometimes do complain to school boards about it. I, as a teacher, want to have a place where students can feel free to talk about any topic regardless of how serious or controversial it is. I just wish we, as a country, were more accepting of the idea of listening to others opinions if they don’t personally align with our own.

  16. For our second entry for democracy and me I chose “I am afraid to address controversial topics in my classes”. I feel like this is a very relevant article for me because I know how uncomfortable it can be to discuss controversial topics in a class of students with mixed backgrounds and perspectives. It’s a very important thing to discuss these things to give the students a better understanding of these topics as well as give them information and opinions from other perspectives to consider when forming their own ideas and opinions. I liked how the article not only addressed the fact that these are things that should be included in curriculum, but also gives us questions to consider when we decide how to go about teaching these topics. The most important question to me was how early to introduce these topics. I think that most topics can be introduced at the elementary level as long as it’s at the most basic level and doesn’t delve into the possibly violent or inappropriate parts of the topic so that they can then build on that.

  17. As someone who practically runs the other direction when conflict arises, this article was both reassuring and motivating. I am glad to know that I am not the only one who fears discussing controversial topics in the classroom! The line, “… see disagreement as an opportunity to learn, not as a form of conflict,” is quite motivating to read and process. My hope is that I can take this new perspective and encourage my future students to look at disagreements with a positive mindset and for them to be open to listening to new ideas.

  18. The topic of discussing difficult issues has been on my mind quite a bit, especially since we had a children’s lesson in my social studies class on the black lives matter movement. I feel very strongly that it is important that we discuss topics like these with students to help ensure that they are knowledgeable and well informed. While I know the importance of these topics and agree that I want to teach them in my future classroom I have been worrying about the fact that parents and community members can feel very strongly on these topics, such as, black lives matter. I am very curious as to how other educators have navigated these topics with young children who are hearing so much information but may not know enough to form or voice their own thoughts on the topic. While I do not have a problem voicing my own opinions and thoughts I am aware as an educator my job is not to persuade students one way or the other but rather educate them on the topic, I hope I can learn how to effectively do this for all students without upsetting parents or the community I teach in.

  19. When I noticed the title of this article I was immediately intrigued because this has been something that I am worried about when teaching. I am not sure the appropriate age to discuss topics or the correct way to address certain topics when they are brought up when I am not prepared to discuss them. I read over your discussion questions and question one is something I am currently unsure about and wonder about. I think these topics should be introduced but I’m not sure how to approach them. I think these things are harder to address in the classroom because as a teacher you have no idea what the students have already been told about certain topics and you don’t know parents’ viewpoints on topics. I think discussing race is something that should be taught in kindergarten. There are now so many great books now that are perfect for starting these types of discussions with kids without going too into detail for the little ones.

  20. I love this article because it is definitely something that has been seen as “touchy-feely” but also what many teachers would like to do. Our culture has changed drastically, even within the last few years. By teaching children about the “controversial” topics, we can begin to get their minds rolling and they can feel like they know about the world around them. At the elementary level, many kids don’t have a negative attitude about the controversial issues so they could have some great input. I have always wanted to include some of these topics in the classroom because I believe it’s important for students to begin their social justice concerns. These issues probably shouldn’t be addressed until fourth or fifth grade, which is when they have begun to think critical about society.

  21. As an education student in my last year of college and approaching my first year of teaching, this has topic been on my mind for awhile, especially considering the world’s climate. I have questioned the appropriate age level to bring up and teach about controversial topics. Reading this article solidified my opinion. I believe that truly at any age level you can bring up a controversial topic because children will be exposed to it anyway. However, how you present the information is incredibly important. For example, I am currently placed in a kindergarten classroom for a student teaching practicum. In regards to the Black Lives Matter movement, I would believe it to be important to teach the students to treat others they way would want to be treated. I would teach how skin color does not make a person lesser or greater. That we should celebrate each others differences and acknowledge how they can actually make us stronger. I have also found the Roadmap resource to be very helpful and useful. If one has time, I would suggest visiting the page! The video are short, but packed with good information.

  22. Broaching onto these topics with children can be nerve wracking but that does not change that it is important. For educators, it is worrisome to think about potential future repercussions due to parents getting upset over their children learning about sensitive or controversial topics in the classroom, but students are also taught that school is a safe space and a place to learn with through our guidance and help. Then, of course, they are going to expect us to do just that- teach. After all, these real-world issues are something that they have a high possibility of facing every day and they deserve to understand what is happening around them. Ignorance is not always bliss.
    With that being said, students’ ages still need to be taken in consideration because while they are citizens like the rest of us, they are still children. In regard to the BLM Movement, this is something that can be brought up throughout any grade level. For elementary school, this could be a chance for higher grades to think critically about civics issues that we are facing in our society, but younger students would using this as a lesson on not treating people differently based on their looks (treat people how you would want to be treated).

  23. While it may not be easy to address these issues in a classroom, it is important to talk about these things. Issue such as racism, gay marriage, and all of the others listed are things that the students will experience. It may not be a topic that is fun to talk about, but that does not mean that the teacher should deprive the students of this information. Teachers should be preparing students for all aspects of their life, because at the end of the day, the students will come into contact with these topics. The I-Civics website is a good resource to start to plan a controversial, but beneficial, lesson for your class.

  24. Many topics are hard to teach in the classroom, but they need to be discussed. Students need to have a place where they can get information on racial inequality, gay marriage, etc. without receiving that information through the filter of the news outlets. The classroom should be a safe place where students can bring up these topics and as their teacher, we can have an educated discussion on the topic. The I-Civic website is a good resource to start the planning of controversial topics.

  25. This article brings to light what I have been thinking for some time now. I don’t know how I will approach the topics such as racism, sexual assault, censorship, abortion, gay marriage or gender equality. However, I am glad that there are resources on how to teach these areas that can be found online. In addition, this thought never crossed my mind until recently. Because during my elementary and middle school years, these topics were never even talked about or touched on in school. But that was also around 10 years ago, when these topics were not really brought to light as much as it is now. Either they didn’t happen as much, or these situations didn’t get enough media attention. For me personally, I feel like it is a little bit of both. One effective and safe way that I feel we can teach and “talk about” these issues are by talking about important people, such as Martin Luther King, and talk about important events such as Rosa Parks, when she refused to give up her seat. This is already being done in certain schools, but it can be taken a step further while keeping in mind to not teach with your own personal bias which can be a big challenge. While the education of social studies can be improved on, what we have now has come a long way from when then our parents were in school. And I believe that some of the social studies education I was taught has made me an empathetic person. However, the lessons that were taught didn’t have the same effect on all of my other peers.

  26. This was an interesting article concerning everything going on in the country currently. I know I find it extremely uncomfortable to work with certain topics as both a teacher and as a student, especially when those topics are not something I believe in or have ever experienced. They tend to make me feel that my voice on the subject would be invalid and the students would be able to pick me apart and find reason to no longer listen. However, I can also say that these are important topics and with time and experience they may become a little easier to discuss as I become more educated on how to teach and approach those subjects as a unbiased teacher, and learn to leave my feelings and opinions on subjects at home. From a college student view, they make me uncomfortable I think for two reasons, one being the fear that my teacher or classmates may react badly if my opinion is different than theirs. Yes, I know teachers are not to be biased and take points away from grades, but they could suddenly grade harder on something else that normally would be overlooked. Secondly because I was not taught how to discuss these in my classes as a student. Through middle and high school, I can not recall ever having deep conversations about controversial topics. We may have briefly discussed them, but at the time they were not heavily taught until I went off to college and found that I knew little about these topics when they surrounded me every day. Now it feels that schools are doing more to talk about these as it does come up in the news more frequently than it did 5, 10, 15 years ago.
    I have not ever witnessed a teacher being fired for brining up these topics, however I have seen a teacher leave the field because of the students bringing up these topics in her room, and not being able to handle the discussion or the feeling of being cornered on her way of thinking. As a substitute I have had to face these conversations a few times in her room and at first I can say the topics that the students brought up such as gay marriage, racism, and politics made me want to run and hide. But with a few days and learning how to have open discussion with the students it became easier and less nerve racking, even when the school’s vice-principal came in to observe.
    I fully agree that good teaching can be a messy thing, but sometimes it has to be in order to create something beautiful, like art. If these are the topics that matter to our students, then it is important to make sure they are getting to explore both ends of the lesson, hear both sides of the story, and learn to come together despite those differences because teachers have that power to help heal a country divided. It helps if you can get parents and your administration to help you, but in the end, you have to also do what is best for the student, even if the best is hard.

  27. As a teacher, you are always worried about what kind of backlash you may receive from parents and administrators. This is something that I’ve definitely have thought of, especially when a student might bring up something controversial and ask what my opinion is on the topic. This has happened to many of my teachers in the past and they usually just say they do not feel comfortable answering. I think that there a bad ways and good ways in going about discussing controversial topics. Sometimes it needs to happen because like the article says, these topics are happening in students’ lives. I really appreciate the resources that are given to address them because I would like to push myself to do this in the classroom.

  28. I agree that controversial topics are scary and can get very messy. Just recently a high school teacher in my area got backlash for having a pride flag hanging in her classroom. Even though this teacher herself was not gay, she was an ally supporting some of her students who are gay. For this she had parents calling the school and complaining because they could see it hanging behind her in her zoom meetings. This is why teachers are afraid. I feel as though it is never to early to teach kids basics of controversial issues. You don’t always need to go into great details to get the younger ones to understand the world around them. Things such as black lives matter and gay marriage is something happening around them and they already hear about. Getting students an understanding of what is really happening without media and influence is the best way to know that they are getting an understanding of what is actually happening. With this being said, we as teachers need to make sure we are also teaching valid information so that there is no influence and therefore not as much backlash from families.

  29. I think that introducing controversial topics into the classroom is a great idea and I look forward to doing so as often as is reasonably possible in my future classroom. I believe it is important to introduce students to controversial political issues, particularly in high school as they will soon be eligible voters. I do not think teachers should ever give their own opinions regarding politics, but the classroom can be a great place for educators to present both sides of an issue to the students, who may have only ever been exposed to one side of the issue. It is also crucial that our students learn how to debate and disagree with someone without becoming overly emotional or resentful of the person that they disagree with. The ability to respectfully disagree with people on the other side of the aisle seems to be an increasingly rare phenomenon, and the classroom is a great place to embed this value in our students. Finally, debating these issues helps students flesh out their own political beliefs, allows them to hear in real time both sides of an issue being debated, and may encourage them to further research the issue or even to change their mind about a topic.

  30. This is something I am extremely nervous about, which is why I chose this article. I don’t ever want to say something that could step on toes of parents, administrators, or coworkers. With everything going on in our society today, we are bound to offend one person, it’s unavoidable. As a teacher it is our job to talk about what is going on outside of the four walls, because we are here to teach students, not hide things. I feel it is a good idea to introduce controversial topics in the classroom, but more at the middle grade to high school area. Elementary students won’t understand, so we more have to teach them about the topics associated with it. There are times where teachers have gotten in trouble for stating their opinions, and that is a no no!! We have to be open to all sides because we are not here to push our ideas and opinions on the students, we are here to teach. Our students are the next generation and they need to be educated on what is going on around them.

  31. Controversial topics are definitely often forgotten about or avoided as topics of conversations between a teacher and his/ her students. I feel like the main reason is because of exactly what this article said; “They tip-toe around topics such as racism, sexual assault, censorship, abortion, gay marriage or gender equality out of fear that they will get into trouble with their administrators or receive backlash from parents”.I 100% agree with this statement and I think it is great that you included it in this article, Dr. Childs. With this being said, I will definitely be very careful if and when I do decide to have discussions with my future students about a controversial topic because I do not want to put myself through the tough task of dealing with angry parents and administrators for making my own decision about whether or not I should or shouldn’t have discussed a controversial topic with the students in my classroom after doing so. I do strongly believe that teachers need to have these types of conversations with their students because they need to know what is going on in the world around them so they can prepare and learn about what to expect once they enter the real world and have to face those around them and what life is like outside of their school environment. It is our job as teachers to prepare our students for the future in the best way possible so they can be successful. One way to do this in the classroom is to practice having discussions about controversial topics so students know the appropriate way to have this type of conversation with others, because they will have to do this when they graduate from high school and enter into adulthood. Discussions about controversial topics are definitely tricky and have to be conducted in the right manner to be able to educate students about the correct way to have this type of conversation, but if done perfectly, this can be very effective and teach students a very important life skill and lesson that is invaluable to them and that they can take with them and apply to their life outside of school.

  32. This resource that you provided will be super helpful to me. Controversial topics do make me a little nervous. While the topics won’t come up in elementary school like they might in middle or high school (through discussion, actions, arguments,etc.), there is certainly still room for it to happen. Some topics are not appropriate for younger kids and it won’t be in my jurisdiction to cover those topics, thats okay. In the same way that there is a “scope and sequence” to social studies curriculum, not all controversial topics should be addressed at once or at all in an elementary setting.

  33. The idea of introducing controversial topics in my future classroom is already something that I stress about. Especially with the division that is seen within our own country today. This article does a great job at showing why mentioning and diving deeper into these topics is so important for students. When I think of my home life, I have parents who do focus their time to understand political issues and have always made an effort to explain the different sides of these issues to my brothers and me. So, I think if I was first asked about my stand on addressing controversial topics in my classroom, my first response would be to not too. I would naively assume that parents will usually take the responsibility to address them to their children and that way I could not get into trouble for possible messy conversations. But for me to assume that parents take that responsibility, is something I really cannot count on. And when my job is to educate young American citizens, I now realize how crucial it is that I teach students how to have safe, positive discussions and stands on important yet controversial issues.

  34. Dr. Childs:

    It was truly encouraging to read your article related to controversial topics in the classroom. Now more than ever, it is essential to present these challenging issues in a respectful and optimistic manner that acknowledges the reality while prompting students to own their role in the future.

    First and foremost, you discuss the current climate and environment which presently exists in the United States. I agree with the fact that this can cause intimidation and result in a lack of discussion and instruction related to controversial topics. By not presenting these topics to students, we are failing them as educators. Difficult conversations are a reality of life. As educators, we must seek to ensure that students are equipped with the resources needed to have these conversations in a healthy and beneficial capacity.

    Secondly, I agree that social studies and language arts classes serve as a great avenue to introduce these topics. Social studies lessons go far beyond historical conversations. A comprehensive social studies curriculum engages students with problems of the past as well as problems of the future. By allowing students an opportunity to learn about these topics and form conclusions related to them, we are proactively preparing them to be leaders and innovators for the future.

    Finally, the iCIvics page provides some leverageable resources which can be used by an educator as he or he prepares to navigate challenging concepts and conversations with students. With the correct level of preparation, students will certainly benefit from a teacher’s guidance while leading this incredible learning.


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  36. This article has been extremely helpful to myself as I have struggled with the very question on how to teach controversial topics many times while obtaining my teaching degree. Growing up myself, I have been ashamed of my ignorance towards racial issues and frustrated at the education I had received in middle and high school that somewhat sidestepped these points of important discussion. There’s a lot about US History alone that I am continually surprised to learn about and flabbergasted taht I hadn’t learned of it in my US History and Civics courses. I am certain that I would like to discuss in some capacity the issues of racial tensions and how they have developed throughout US History. The resources provided here have helped me retain the confidence to do so. There are many challenges in tackling controversial topics, from social annihilation to getting fired and struggling to find a new job; however, hopefully if discussed openly these potential consequences can be mitigated.

  37. I feel that article argues many valid points. Sensitive topics such as racism, politics, assault, religion, and much more are hard to bring up in a classroom. In most cases like the article pointed out, teachers may not know how to address those topics. Anyone who supports a cause or follows a specific group may not like to hear others input because they may find it offensive. Teachers should be stating in the classroom that addressing controversial topics are to be taught with facts and supporting evidence. Opinions are welcomed but it must be stated that it cannot be offensive towards a specific group of people. Students need to hear controversial topics in school to facilitate learning and become appropriately informed about such topics.

  38. I think in middle school and high school classrooms it is much easier to discuss controversial topics. I think students are expected to start to think for themselves and dive deeper into topics, not just believe or go along with whatever they were told when they were younger. I think in the early elementary grades, that is where things aren’t as easy. Yes, I think controversial topics should be discussed or raised to a certain degree. I think topics should be acknowledged. Unfortunately, I do think early elementary teachers face potential backlash from parents. Kids bring these topics to school anyways whether the teachers bring them up or not and often times they are from a very biased point of view. I have heard it myself from my own children. I think it is important for teachers to acknowledge these topics and for children to hear about these topics without an agenda behind them. I think we are doing our children a disservice by not talking about controversial topics. It might seem like we are protecting them by not acknowledging these topics or issues, but we aren’t. I think by not talking about them we are making the children more susceptible to just believing whatever they are told later in life, leading in some cases to extremism.

  39. As a future educator, I agree that it is difficult to introduce and discuss controversial topics in the classroom. I agree when the article mentioned that students need an outlet and a safe space to let out these controversial topics that are going on around students each day. Teachers could benefit by teaching about these topics with facts about the topics. Even though they can be difficult topics to talk about, it is important for students to learn about these controversial topics. 

  40. I really enjoyed this article because it gave valid points and advice on how to teach controversial topics in my future classroom. I think that integrating such topics in specific ways gives students the opportunity to learn without debate. Many teachers have this same thought of being afraid to being up controversial topics, and I think that concern comes from not being as educated as they should be to be able to bring them up. Research should be done first, in my opinion. The article gives a resource for teachers to help them integrate “uncomfortable” topics into their curriculum. I really liked this quote “When approached the right way ‘classrooms can be welcoming spaces for students to test-drive their ideas and to see disagreement as an opportunity to learn, not as a form of conflict.’” If teachers go about teaching and bringing up controversial topics in the classroom, then students can learn without conflict.

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