Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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LINK: Social Studies in Action Home
Student looking at student work on a board. In This Lesson:.
Exploring The Issues.
Applying What You've Learned.
NCSS Themes in This Lesson.

Dealing with Controversial Issues

What role does social studies play in helping students deal with controversial issues?

How provocative should social studies topics be?

Some educators believe that certain issues are best addressed privately -- at home, for example -- and that social studies should focus on objective facts. Others argue that public controversy is characteristic of a healthy democracy and that working with others to address multiple perspectives is a skill that students need to develop in a classroom context.

All social studies teachers must inevitably deal with controversial issues, ranging from basic ideas of fairness and equality in a democracy, to immigration, to the distribution of world resources. Controversial issues require students to conduct thorough research, master concepts on both sides of an issue, and develop a perspective of their own.

The most difficult issues often have a profound impact on students, and class discussions about these issues can leave teachers feeling like referees. However, in a democracy it is critical for students to learn how to listen to opposing viewpoints, and the teacher's role must be to create an open forum that allows opposing viewpoints to be fully expressed. The challenge for all teachers is finding the fine line between engaging students' interest and maintaining a sense of objectivity that lets students master the material and develop their own perspectives.

How can teachers help students understand the ideas and values behind historical controversies, competing ideologies, and changing laws? In the video, "Dealing With Controversial Issues," teachers and students explore issues in social studies by:

  • conducting research using several resources,
  • discussing the facts linked to the controversy,
  • determining points of view,
  • supporting a point of view with evidence gathered from research,
  • listening to opposing points of view and engaging in a debate, and
  • proposing solutions.


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