Learning how to deal with controversy

Editorial by Terrell Wooten

It’s something that happens in every group at some point in its journey—maybe in the first couple of weeks or in the first couple of years. There is going to come a moment when, in a small group setting, tension arises.

I’ve always expected that controversy and disagreements arise in any relationship, any relationship that matters, anyway. Otherwise, one of the parties doesn’t need to be there or it gets very boring.

The trick is not how you communicate your disagreement with your friend, co-worker, customer, partner, spouse or sibling; the trick is how you receive the feedback, good or bad.

According to Learner.org, social studies play a role in helping students deal with controversial issues. 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 a 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.


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