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.
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?