Teaching Controversy in the Secondary Classroom

Throughout history, teachers have faced controversial topics in their classrooms.  Do they teach these topics or do they adhere to convention and ignore the opportunity to open young minds?  For those of the past, asking students to consider new theories could be career ending, and sometimes dangerous.  But for teachers today, teaching students to think for themselves is expected, and controversy should be a part of every classroom experience!

Tips on teaching controversy in the secondary Social Studies classroom.
Image taken by Brian Sims in Oakland 99% Strike.
Here are some history lessons to consider:

What would the world be like if Socrates did not teach his students to think?

What would the world be like if Martin Luther did not teach his disciples to question?

What would the world be like if Galileo didn't teach his followers to investigate?

What would the world be like if Scopes bowed down to the power of his peers?

What would the world be like if Martin Luther King Jr. allowed the status quo to remain in effect?

What would the world be like if WE did not teach what we know?  If we just passed on the FACTS, and never asked our students to think or question or investigate?  What would our future be if we didn't support our students in standing up against peer pressure and facing off against the status quo? 

So, how do you teach controversy?  Just open the door!
  • Introduce the topics that some fear and avoid.
  • Allow open discussion, and welcome the devil's advocate into the classroom.
  • Encourage investigation and the introduction of new theories.
  • Teach respect for others and an appreciation of difference.
  • Do not ONLY teach the facts, but ask the right questions to allow students to discover their own interests and theories on the topics introduced.
Accept that your students will feel differently than you do about the events and topics you introduce.  Appreciate this fact, and remember that they are the future...

And finally, keep your fingers crossed!  Do not be naive that teaching controversy will not bring conflict and chaos.  Just be prepared to defend your lessons and to defend your obligation to prepare your students to the real world we live in today!

Here are some controversial lessons to get you started!
Who is the real hero?
What really happened?

What should have been done?
It wasn't a war?
Was it worth the costs?
Should we have...?

Tips for middle or high school teachers on teaching controversy in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

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