by Marsha Rakestraw

Discussing global ethical issues – especially those that are considered “unsettled” or “controversial’ in mainstream society – can be a real challenge.

Talking about those issues in the classroom can get teachers suspended or fired, can worry administrators or offend parents, and can confuse students.

Despite concerns, research shows that civic engagement through discussions of controversial issues is vital and valuable.

For example, Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy, educators, researchers, and authors of the book The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, discovered that “students in classes with rich and frequent discussions of controversial political issues describe these courses as engaging, become more confident about their ability to participate competently in discussions, demonstrate increased political knowledge, and display more interest in politics. They follow the news more regularly, are more likely to engage in political discussions with people with whom they disagree ideologically, and are more interested in listening to opinions different from their own.”

Even with worry about repercussions and with increased divisiveness since the 2016 presidential election, a February 2017 Education Week survey notes that many educators still strive to discuss “controversial” issues in the classroom, but often aren’t sure how.

According to the survey, “While most educators said they could discuss controversial issues with their students in a civil manner, only 44 percent said their training adequately prepared them to handle those discussions, and 23 percent said they have received no such training. Most teachers said they have not received guidance from administrators on how to talk about such issues with their students.”

It’s clear that educators want resources and guidance for discussing global ethical issues in their classrooms.

Here are 3 simple tips for teaching about “controversial” issues.

And our Pinterest board is full of useful tips and resources for talking with students about these issues.