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6 Aims of Teaching Controversial Political Issues to Students

This is the second in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The first post in this series discussed the benefits of teaching controversial political issues.


Educational aims are the hopeful bedrock on which every curriculum is built. They transcend class objectives, which are typically measured with tests and term papers. They are ideals that give teaching a higher purpose. They are long-term.

So what are the educational aims of a political education?

Critics often cite indoctrination, but a political education is not about forcing—or even forming—political viewpoints. It is about deliberation, the process of carefully considering and discussing political issues. It is about instilling and honoring democratic values—liberty, equality, justice—and participating in the democratic process. Although Thomas Jefferson never said that “an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people,” he surely believed it. Democracy itself depends on concerned citizens who understand democratic values and the political process.

In The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy identify the aims of teaching controversial political issues to students. Six are defined here:

1.  Political Equity

Citizens are political equals, both as a birthright and as individuals with unique needs and perspectives.

2.  Political Tolerance

Citizens have unalienable rights, regardless of political viewpoints. Those in the majority rule cannot use public policy to discriminate against or persecute those who are in the minority.

3.  Political Autonomy

Citizens are free from oppression or coercion and free to form political opinions and participate in the political process.

4.  Political Fairness

Citizens think individually and collectively about finding the best solutions to promote the common good.

5.  Political Engagement

Citizens participate politically by staying informed, debating, voting, protesting, and campaigning.

6.  Political Literacy

Citizens think critically about controversial political issues and also understand the larger political context, such as historical context, the role of government, etc.

Although these aims are not always attained, they are ideals that democratic societies hope to achieve. And research suggests that some of these aims are indeed achieved, at least to some degree, when students are exposed to controversial political issues in school.

Young adults are often criticized for not voting as soon as they turn 18, yet many of them were never exposed to controversial political issues in school. This is illogical. A high school student quoted in Hess and McAvoy’s The Political Classroom explains why the aims of a political education are vital: “We are seniors. We are going out into the real world in a few months, a few weeks, actually, from now. And, you know, we have to be exposed to that stuff some time or another. Otherwise, you are going to be completely clueless.” (105) Well said.

The next post in this controversial political issues series will address the ethical issues of teaching political issues to students.

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The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education is available on ProQuest Ebook Central or wherever books are sold.


SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

6 Benefits of Teaching Controversial Political Issues to Students

This is the first in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students.

6 Benefits of Teaching Controversial Political Issues to Students


Political polarization is growing, and schools are not immune. Political divisiveness, which has been simmering in schools for a while now, boiled over during the 2016 presidential election and exposed a major problem: students struggle to talk civilly about controversial political issues. Headlines chronicling this problem are everywhere. Last October, administrators cancelled a mock election at an elementary school because they feared divisive talk. This month, Middlebury College students resorted to violence to block a controversial speaker because his viewpoints differed from their own.

Teachers, facing pressure from parents and school administrators, are now questioning whether they should be teaching controversial political issues, which have long been a part of the curriculum. According to a 2016 Southern Poverty Law Center survey, more than half of K-12 teachers reported an increase in uncivil political talk among their students, and over 40 percent said they were reluctant to teach about the 2016 presidential election.

So, we are left with one question: Should teachers cover controversial political issues in the classroom?

Let’s take the long view and turn to facts grounded in research. Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy, co-winners of the 2017 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award, published The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education in 2014. The book presents findings from their landmark four-year study on the teaching of controversial political issues in the classroom, including observations and interviews of high school teachers and their students. Hess and McAvoy found that students want to indeed learn about controversial political issues. They also found that teaching controversial political issues has real benefits for students, even—or especially—in these politically polarized times.

Here are six benefits of teaching controversial political issues to students:

  1. Engagement. Students participate more, especially when they are encouraged to be a part of class discussions.
  2. Political Literacy. Students stay more informed about controversial political issues.
  3. Tolerance. Students respect and understand other viewpoints.
  4. Confidence. Students grow more confident in holding their own viewpoints and discussing politics in general.
  5. Civil Discourse. Students learn to engage in civil discourse.
  6. Political Participation. Students vote more often later in life.

Of course, teaching controversial political issues does not come without risks. Educators face challenging ethical decisions, along with a partisan political climate. Some students may be sensitive about certain issues because they are affected in their own lives. Students need a safe environment and guidance, and teachers need to be clear about their expectations, including what is acceptable and respectful behavior. These concerns cannot be ignored.

But political divisiveness in schools doesn’t mean educators should stop teaching controversial political issues. It means educators should be teaching them more. Debating controversial political issues civilly isn’t innate. It is learned. If students are not taught to engage civilly in political debates, they cannot be expected to do so as adults. Students in Hess and McAvoy’s study demonstrated a remarkable level of maturity and intellectual growth because it was expected of them. If today’s students learn how to deliberate and discuss, they will become adults capable of civil discourse. Imagine that.

Future posts in this controversial political issues series will address other considerations, including the aims of teaching political issues, ethical issues of teaching political issues, and rules to promote civil discourse.

Subscribe via email to Share This and never miss a post.


The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education is available on ProQuest Ebook Central or wherever books are sold.


SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

Poll: Should More Be Done to Regulate Fake News?

Strengthening information literacy skills is one way to fight the spread of fake news. However, according to a recent Pew Research poll, many Americans also believe that social media sites, search engines, and the government have a responsibility to stop fake news. Facebook, widely criticized for its role in spreading fake news, recently announced efforts to tackle the problem. Critics, though, argue that this approach could lead to censorship.

The “That’s Debatable!” poll, a popular polling feature in SIRS Issues Researcher, has been asking users all month whether fake news should be regulated. So far, users have overwhelmingly voted yes: fake news should indeed be regulated. What do you think? Should social media sites, search engines, and the government regulate fake news? Or is it the responsibility of news consumers to identify fake news on their own? Take our poll, and tell us what you think.

Are your students equipped with the information literacy skills to identify fake news? ProQuest Guided Research products equip students to learn information literacy skills. Free trials are available.

How to Identify Fake News in 10 Steps

Fake news is a problem. Information illiteracy is an even bigger problem. A Stanford University study released last November found that most students could not identify fake news because they lacked basic information literacy skills. The good news? We are finally having a national conversation on the importance of teaching information literacy, which teachers and librarians have been talking about for years.

Unfortunately, a recent ProQuest survey found that only 25% of librarians thought their library adequately supported information literacy instruction. Thankfully, there are information literacy resources available on the web. Damon Brown’s TED-ED video “How to Choose Your News” offers a quick, student-friendly introduction to information and media literacy. ProQuest’s editable guided research worksheet “How to Identify Fake News in 10 Steps” helps students become skeptical news consumers.

Want more resources? See eLibrary’s new comprehensive Research Topic on Fake News.

ProQuest Guided Research products equip students to learn information literacy skills. Free trials are available.

Top Trending Pro/Con Leading Issues of 2016

2016. What a year. Let’s take a look at some of the pro/con Leading Issues that dominated SIRS Issues Researcher’s featured trending list in 2016.

In 2017, ProQuest editors will continue to create new Leading Issues and update existing ones.

As always, we thank you for your support, and we look forward to serving you and your students in 2017 and beyond.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Request a free trial.

Crowdfunding for Schools

The need for classroom supplies never goes away. Unfortunately, funding for supplies is considered discretionary spending, so it is often the first area to get cut when school budgets tighten. It’s no secret that teachers spend a lot of their own money on supplies to fill the gaps. But in recent years, teachers have been relying on crowdfunding sites, which connect teachers with a large number of donors looking to help. In 2016, teachers raised over $100 million through DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding site that specifically caters to education projects.

Many school supplies purchased at the beginning of the school year need to be replenished as students return from the holiday break. If you are an educator in need of funds, consider crowdfunding. And if you are someone who wants to show your support for teachers and students, consider visiting crowdfunding sites to donate.

Are you conducting any crowdfunding campaigns for your school?

If so, tell us about them on Twitter @ProQuest or in the comments below.

Thank You, Teachers and Librarians

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to reflect on what and who we are grateful for, but it also reminds us that expressing our thanks should happen year-round. Gratitude, after all, has numerous health benefits, including improved physical and psychological health. Expressing gratitude also has the ability to improve someone else’s well-being. Unfortunately, teachers and librarians rarely get the recognition they deserve.

Only 29% of teachers said that they had received recognition or praise for their work within the last seven days.

According to a Gallup employee engagement poll, only 29% of teachers said that they had received recognition or praise for their work within the last seven days. When recognition does finally arrive, it usually happens during the last days of the school year, before summer recess. Teachers and librarians work hard all year long. Recognition shouldn’t be limited to the last day of school.

At ProQuest, we recognize teachers and librarians for who they truly are: heroes. From all of us at ProQuest, thank you to teachers and librarians for your service and dedication. And Happy Thanksgiving!

How do you show gratitude? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @ProQuest or in the comments below.

6 Reasons Why Editorial Cartoons Are an Essential Teaching Tool

“One strong editorial cartoon is worth a hundred solemn editorials.”
—William Zinsser, On Writing Well

daily-paper-464015_1920

CC0 Public Domain, via Pixabay

My seventh-grade social studies teacher gave extra credit to students who brought in editorial cartoons for class discussions. Luckily for me, stacks of newspapers were common in my house. My father was a printing-press operator and a newspaper addict. We got three newspapers daily and sometimes more when my father couldn’t resist a newsstand. So I got a lot of extra credit that year.

Editorial cartoons are all that I remember from that class. My newspaper monopoly aside, I remember being captivated by grown-up cartoons and wanted to understand them, which is how I became interested in current events and issues. I still get excited when I see editorial cartoons. An astute cartoon is an oasis in a wit-starved world.

To celebrate our new Editorial Cartoons Curriculum Guide, here are six reasons why editorial cartoons are an enduring curriculum essential.

Why do you think editorial cartoons are an essential teaching tool?

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter #ProQuest or in the comments below.

ProQuest editors are continually adding editorial cartoons to ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher. Don’t have it? Request a trial.

Poll: Is the Educator’s Summer Vacation a Myth?

sangria

CC0 Public Domain, via Pixabay

After they met, they sipped sangria and studied each other. He seemed to have potential.

“So, what do you do for work?” he asked.

“I’m a teacher,” she said.

“Oh, it must be so nice to have summers off!” he said.

Her sangria-spiked blood boiled. His insipid, small-talk question was forgivable; his moronic response to her answer was not.

She flung sangria into his face. Fruit and red wine ran down his head. His shirt stained. He looked wounded, bloodied. She immediately regretted her behavior: she just wasted sangria.

***

Sans the sangria, has this scenario ever happened to you?

Of course it has.

It seems like everyone thinks educators spend their summers sunning themselves and sipping sangria at the beach. Nice, right? If only it were true. Last summer, an article on the Atlantic.com declared that a teacher’s summer vacation is a myth. Many educators actually spend the majority of their summers writing lesson plans, attending conferences, taking continuing education classes, teaching summer school, or working second jobs. Does this sound familiar?

Is the educator’s summer vacation really just a myth? Take our poll.

 

Chronic Absenteeism:
Why It Matters and How to Fight It

My no-nonsense parents had no patience for illness let alone truancy. School attendance was required; sickness was just another brick-heavy textbook in my backpack. But in the fifth grade, savage bacteria fought for my liberty. I thought I caught the bubonic plague, so I went to the school nurse. Diagnosis: fever, no plague. My mother had to pick me up—nurse’s orders. I was free, even though it only led to soup and sleep.

Bueller?… Bueller?… Bueller?…

My early dismissal wasn’t exactly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this month. In that film, Bueller skips school, “borrows” a Ferrari, tours Chicago, and outwits every adult. Even adults can recognize the appeal in that scenario. Being absent once in a while is liberating. No big deal, right?

Adding It All Up

As it turns out, absences add up fast. According to a recent U.S. Department of Education (DOE) report, truancy is endemic. Thirteen percent of U.S. students, 1 in 8, are chronically absent, which is defined as missing at least 15 days of school a year. High school students are the worst offenders: nearly 1 in 5 is chronically absent. Minority students also have higher rates of chronic absenteeism.

Why It Matters

Ferris Bueller is a career truant. Does it matter, really? It does, actually. The same DOE report cites studies finding that truancy causes students to fall behind in important areas like reading. Chronic absenteeism also indicates a greater likelihood of dropping out. And consequences may extend into adulthood: truancy and dropping out lead to poorer health outcomes and increased chances of going through the criminal justice system.

What We Can Do

If Ferris Bueller proves anything, it’s that truancy beats economics class. But—other than not sounding like Ben Stein—there are some things educators can do to curb chronic absenteeism.

  • Collect individualized data. Use data to identify which students are chronically absent.
  • Engage students and parents. Awareness matters. Sometimes students and parents simply don’t realize how quickly absences have added up.
  • Dig deeper. Ask a student or parent what’s going on. Some reasons are more serious: illness, family responsibilities, housing troubles, unstable home environments, insufficient transportation, bullying, personal safety concerns, and culture are just a few reasons that lead to absences.
  • Find solutions. More serious problems aren’t easily fixable, but identifying them is the first step toward finding solutions.

Avoiding absences altogether is impossible. Sometimes fifth graders spike fevers. And sometimes the Ferris Bueller’s of the world declare, “How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?” Too often, though, we dismiss the adverse consequences of truancy, but it’s no joke. Curbing chronic absenteeism now will help students become successful adults. It’s within our power to at least try.

How does your school fight chronic absenteeism?

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter #ProQuest or in the comments below.