Academic journal article Social Education

Teaching about a Controversial Issue

Academic journal article Social Education

Teaching about a Controversial Issue

Article excerpt

The point of an issues-centered lesson is for students to learn how to develop well-reasoned opinions based on disciplined inquiry and thoughtful, in-depth study. An issues-centered lesson does not mean that students sit back and express biases and values that cannot be reconciled. Quite the opposite. It means empowering the student to develop defensible and intellectually well-grounded opinions that can serve as the basis for making decisions, speaking out, and taking action as a citizen. It means exposing new facts, clarifying common values, and asking new questions that reach beyond obvious points of division and toward a creative, collective future.

The Handbook on Teaching Social Issues describes four important principles upon which an issues-centered lesson (or unit of study) should be built. (1)


Depth of understanding is more important than coverage and superficial exposure. Topics must be studied in sustained ways that introduce students to important complexities and details. For example, in a lesson on the American Revolution, students might explore the question whether the colonists should have protested British rule with violent demonstrations. To make the study of this question meaningful, students will need to develop an understanding of the context in which colonial protests occurred. They will need to study in detail specific instances in which governmental power was challenged.


Topics must connect through a thematic, disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or historical structure. Simply studying one issue after another will fail to give students the intellectual structures they need to organize and think about relationships among various issues and how their resolution might approximate social justice.


The study of a current issue must be grounded in challenging content. A sharing of "armchair opinions" is not enough. Such study requires teaching forms of reasoning, interrogation and presentation of evidence, and also the mastery of concepts and theories that bring expert knowledge to bear. …

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