Controversy Education in Secondary Social Science Classrooms: Issues, Concerns, and Implementation

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Controversy Education in secondary Social Science Classrooms: Issues, Concerns, and Implementation

TWO KEY ISSUES

Why in the world would secondary teachers want to take on controversy as part of their instructional regimen? The presentation of controversial issues very delicate, to be sure. Whether issues such as stem cell research, euthanasia, abortion, homosexual marriage, or others, teachers risk much through "controversy education, including a better education for their students. Having spoken personally with dozens of high school and college educators throughout the nation and parts of Europe, there seemed to emerge two major issues from the opening question. Each warrants a brief examination.

Issue #1 : Should educators rule out dealing with "some" controversial issues-particularly if they are grounded in serious disagreement, or unlikely to be resolved? The answer to this question is a resounding "No!" Educators must come to understand clearly that many controversial issues may not be solved within classrooms-and that is all right. After all, some controversial issues are marked by a lack of resolution. Nonetheless, teachers can strive for the shedding of new light, or even a broader understanding of an issue by students. The realization that some issues take time to solve will empower students to continue to strive for solutions to problems, promoting others into serious inquiry. Teachers should not avoid the teaching of a controversial issue simply because it cannot be quantitatively analyzed, or solved within the design of a school period.

Issue #2: What happens if parents object to dealing with controversial issues in the classroom? Richard Riley, former secretary of Education (1994), understood the nature of this concern when he wrote:

There are many Americans, and many of them are deeply religious, who are skeptical about any expert or federal official, including the U. S. secretary of Education, having a role in informing them how they should mold their children's characters. Yes, they are deeply concerned about characters and ethics. We need to be aware of this skepticism, recognize why it has developed, and work to find those connections that enable us to reach out to these Americans.

In terms of "controversy education" curriculum, it is critical to run things across the desk of school administrators. First, teachers must be aware of state curriculum framework and content standards for social science. Within the document, there is much flexibility to deal with unresolved "issues" in society-at-large. In 1994, the California State Board of Education adopted a handbook on the rights and responsibilities of school personnel and students in the areas providing "Moral, Civic, and Ethical Education Teaching About Religion Promoting Responsible Attitudes and Behaviors and Preventing and Responding to Hate Violence." California expects teachers to be proactive in dealing with controversial issues, as understood in the following excerpt from the document:

All educators are obliged to awaken youth to the moral and ethical values that build a fundamental strength of character and are firmly grounded in our American heritage. There is a common core of personal qualities and social imperatives with which all citizens must be conversant and to which each is accountable. This common core ... must be integrally woven throughout curriculum, instruction, programs, and activities provided in the California public schools. Moreover, educators are obligated to model these personal qualities and evidence their respect for these social imperatives in their daily interactions with students (Center for Civic Education 1996-7).

Since it is apparent that the state "obligates" teachers to bring moral and ethical values into the classroom, it would help to have some practical guidelines on how to go about this implementation as smoothly as possible. However, it is sometimes both the values chosen and the methods of implementation that some parents find offensive (Loges & Kidder 1997). …