Teaching students respectful discourse is key to approaching controversial topics
- Riverside High School (N.C.) English and journalism teacher Bryan Christopher used the bringing down of a Confederate statue in Durham, N.C., as a lesson in symbolism related to his students' studying of Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet" — whose parents erect statues to their children to end the family feud, he wrote in Education Week.
- Christopher had students consider symbols from a halo to a Confederate flag, and monuments from Mount Rushmore to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, with the conversations deepening their understanding of how certain symbols and monuments came to be, and if those sentiments could or should be expressed today.
- Christopher suggests tips for educators who want to mirror his lessons, including making sure teachers “build trust” with students first, diving into potentially controversial subjects later.
A good education is one that doesn’t avoid difficult subjects but instead teaches students how to listen to and discuss diverse opinions. Educators who shy away from teaching about issues that could enflame students' emotions may themselves need assistance in crafting curriculum around controversial subjects.
As Education Dive addressed in January, students need to know how to navigate controversial issues at some point in their lives. Teaching them how to handle disagreements is a crucial lifelong tool.
For educators and administrators who don’t know where to start, a good place could be with the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning, which outlines a number of tools educators can use in the classroom. These suggestions include having teachers model good behavior that students can then mirror, such as learning how to express disagreement with an idea and not with a person. Educators can also consider setting up ground rules before starting to talk about a controversial subject, giving students something tangible to follow and use if a conversation gets heated.
- Education Week When Confederate Monuments Fall, Move Them to Your Classroom