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Learning to teach controversial issues: A path forward

By Judith L. Pace
October 2022
Dealing with controversial issues is one of the most important tasks teachers perform. At the same time, we must acknowledge that today, fear of backlash for addressing “contentious, politicized topics” contributes significantly to educator stress (Woo et al., 2022). A widespread “conflict campaign,” a right-wing movement attacking curriculum that addresses gender and sexuality, racial injustice, and other subjects related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (Pollock & Rogers, 2022), has generated laws in 17 states and 100-plus pending bills that censor teaching. Teachers confront a real dilemma as they weigh their commitment to educational purposes versus protection for themselves, their students, and their schools. As a nation and a world community, we are facing unprecedented attacks on democracy and human rights, consequences of a global pandemic,

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References

Hahn, C. (1998). Becoming political: Comparative perspectives on citizenship education. SUNY Press.

Hess, D.E. (2009). Controversy in the classroom: The democratic power of discussion. Routledge.

Hess, D.E. & McAvoy, P. (2015). The political classroom: Evidence and ethics in democratic education. Routledge.

Hess, D.E. & Zola, J. (2012). Professional development as a tool for improving civic education. In D.E. Campbell, M. Levinson, & F.M. Hess (Eds.), Making civics count: Citizenship education for a new generation (pp. 183-206). Harvard Education Press.

Ho, L., McAvoy, P., Hess, D., & Gibbs, B. (2017). Teaching and learning about controversial issues and topics in the social studies. The Wiley Handbook of Social Studies Research, 319-335.

Journell, W. (2022). Classroom controversy in the midst of political polarization: The essential role of school administrators. NASSP Bulletin, 106(2), 133-153.

Kahne, J. & Middaugh, E. (2008). High quality civic education: What is it and who gets it? Social Education, 72(1), 34-39.

Kawashima-Ginsberg, K. & Junco, R. (2018). Teaching controversial issues in a time of polarization. Social Education, 82(6), 323-329.

Kawashima-Ginsberg, K. & Levine, P. (2015). Challenges and opportunities for discussion of controversial issues in racially pluralistic schools. Social Education, 79(5), 271-277.

Kerr, D. & Huddleston, E. (2015). Teaching controversial issues: Training pack for teachers. Council of Europe. rm.coe.int/16806948b6

Pace, J.L. (2015). The charged classroom: Predicaments and possibilities for democratic teaching. Routledge.

Pace, J.L. (2019). Contained risk-taking: Preparing preservice teachers to teach controversial issues in three countries. Theory & Research in Social Education, 47(2), 228-260.

Pace, J.L. (2021a). Hard questions: Learning to teach controversial issues. Rowman & Littlefield.

Pace, J.L. (2021b). How can educators prepare for teaching controversial issues? Cross-national lessons. Social Education, 85(4), 228-233.

Pace, J.L. & Journell, W. (2021, November 2). Why controversial issues must still be taught in U.S. classrooms. EdSource. edsource.org/2021/why-controversial-issues-must-still-be-taught-in-u-s-classrooms/663103

Parker, W.C. (2006). Public discourses in schools: Purposes, problems, possibilities. Educational Researcher, 35(8), 11-18.

Pollock, M., Rogers, J., Kwako, A., Matschiner, A., Kendall, R., Bingener, C., Reece, E., Kennedy, B., & Howard, J. (2022). The conflict campaign: Exploring local experiences of the campaign to ban “critical race theory” in public K-12 education in the U.S., 2020-2021. UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access.

Torney-Purta, J., Lehmann, R., Oswald, H., & Schulz, W. (2001). Citizenship and education in twenty-eight countries: Civic knowledge and engagement at age fourteen. International Association for the Evaluation of Academic Achievement.

Woo, A., Wolfe, R.L., Steiner, E.D., Doan, S., Lawrence, R.A., Berdie, L., Greer, L., Gittens, A.D., & Schwartz, H.L. (2022). Walking a fine line — Educators’ views on politicized topics in schooling: Findings from the State of the American Teacher and State of the American Principal Surveys. RAND Corporation. www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1108-5.html


Judith l pace

Judith L. Pace (pace@usfca.edu) is professor of teacher education at the University of San Francisco. Her work and resource on teaching about controversial issues can be found at https://teachingcontroversies.com


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