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. One of my favorite things stated in this article is that teaching is messy. Just because teaching is messy does not mean it is bad. Our nation is divided as is teaching and we should embrace that in our classrooms. I would want to embrace difference in my classroom, but I as most teachers, don’t have the education or resources to do so. I agree that disagreement should be an opportunity to learn, not always a conflict. If teachers were given the resources to help talk about controversial topics in their classrooms it could help students with their own conflict resolutions in their day-to-day life.

  2. I believe it is critical that we discuss contentious issues in the classroom. The actual world is uncensored and unconcerned with people’s sentiments or whether they are sensitive to a certain issue. Students need a place to go to acquire knowledge on racial inequity, gay marriage, and other issues without having to go through the mainstream media’s filter. The classroom should be a safe space for kids to discuss these issues, and as their teacher, you should encourage them to do so.

  3. I think exposing children to controversial topics while they’re at the age to start questioning them (middle, high school age) is very crucial in helping them to look at these topics as an opportunity to learn like you said, instead of seeing them as a conflict. It’s understandable that not all teachers know how to address topics like this to their students, but I think even just incorporating what if scenerios and explaining how they should be open to learning new things could go a long way. Like it’s explained, if teachers approach these topics the right way it can be very beneficial for the students.

  4. I think that it is important that we talk about controversial topics in classrooms. The real world isn’t censored and doesn’t care about people’s feelings or whether or not someone is sensitive regarding a certain topic. Children need to be informed about many things, but they aren’t in a curriculum or teachers are too scared to teach them. I understand the hesitation of teaching controversial topics but it has to be done.

  5. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.