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Archive for the ‘SIRS Issues Researcher’ Category

Let’s Debate…Education Reform

Education reform, particularly federal spending on public education, has been a political hot-button issue since the 1960s. Questions that were asked then are the same that are debated now: Do the funds provided by the Department of Education improve students’ learning environments and opportunities, or do they simply allow states to decrease money allocated to education? Does federal funding advance education in public schools, or does it stifle public schools with regulations and oversight?

Check out Let’s Debate…Education Reform below for an overview of the topic. Also visit the SKS Spotlight of the Month, which explores the 2017-2018 National High School Debate Topic: The United States federal government should substantially increase its funding and/or regulation of elementary and/or secondary education in the United States.

 

Happy Birthday, P.T. Barnum!

Today marks the 207th birthday of Phineas Taylor “P.T.” Barnum. The legendary showman is best remembered for his elaborate hoaxes and founding the circus he called “The Greatest Show on Earth.” He entertained the public by promoting human curiosities, animal attractions, and music concerts.

P.T. Barnum Research Topic Screencap via ProQuest eLibrary

P.T. Barnum Research Topic Screencap via ProQuest eLibrary

Early Life

P.T. Barnum was born in Bethel, Connecticut on July 5, 1810. He started his journey as an entrepreneur at a young age. At 12-years-old, he was selling cherry-rum to soldiers. His various jobs included working as a store-keeper, running a lottery business, and editing his own newspaper called the “Herald of Freedom.”

The “Great American Showman”

Barnum moved to New York City in 1834. A year later, he launched his entertainment career when he purchased and exhibited Joice Heth, a blind African-American slave. Heth was touted as being George Washington’s 161-year-old former nurse. After Heth’s death in February of 1836, Barnum staged a public autopsy that revealed Heth was probably not older than 80.

In December of 1841, Barnum bought Scudder’s American Museum and relaunched it as Barnum’s American Museum on January 1, 1842. The museum’s collections included historic exhibitions, taxidermied animals, live animals, wax figures, and oddities–such as the “Feejee Mermaid.”

In 1842, Barnum met a 4-year-old dwarf named Charles Sherwood Stratton in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Stratton weighed 15 pounds and was 25 inches tall. Barnum hired Stratton for $3.00 a week and introduced him to audiences as “General Tom Thumb.” Barnum told the public that Stratton was 11-years-old to avoid accusations that he was exhibiting a child somewhat smaller than average. The exhibit’s massive popularity led to a tour of Europe, which included a performance for Queen Victoria.

One of Barnum’s most successful ventures was his promotion of Swedish opera performer Jenny Lind. Barnum brought the “Swedish Nightingale” from Europe to the United States in 1850 for a triumphant tour that set astounding box-office records. Barnum reportedly earned over $500,000 for the tour.

Bridgeport, Connecticut

In addition to being a promoter, Barnum was interested in transforming Bridgeport, Connecticut into a booming metropolis. He suffered bankruptcy after trying to lure the ill-fated Jerome Clock Company to his adopted hometown. Barnum restored his monetary standing by touring with General Tom Thumb and through a lecture tour. He was Bridgeport’s mayor for one term and served two terms in the Connecticut legislature.

Circus Pioneer

On July 13, 1865, Barnum’s American Museum was destroyed by a fire. He opened a second museum that also burned down in 1868. In 1870, Barnum agreed to collaborate with circus managers W.C. Coup and Dan Castello on a gigantic circus venture. P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus opened in Brooklyn on April 10, 1871. Many of Barnum’s old performers were recruited for what he referred to as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” In 1874, Barnum’s spectacular show found a permanent home at the New York Hippodrome, now known as Madison Square Garden.

In 1881, Barnum combined forces with his chief rival James Bailey to form the Barnum & London Circus. Barnum and Bailey experienced great success the following season with the purchase of Jumbo. The legendary elephant weighed 6 ½ tons and stood over 11 ½ feet tall. Jumbo delighted audiences until his accidental death in 1885.

In 1887, Barnum agreed to relinquish control of the circus, which became the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth.

Legacy

Barnum died on April 7, 1891. After Barnum’s death, Bailey managed the show for many years. In 1907, Bailey’s competitors, the Ringling brothers bought the Barnum & Bailey show. The two shows were combined in 1919, becoming known as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, The Greatest Show on Earth. As someone who grew up with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and loved the extravaganza, it is with a heavy heart that I write that “The Greatest Show on Earth” no longer exists. The iconic circus gave its final performance on May 21, 2017 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

Resources

P.T. Barnum is remembered as a brilliant promoter who transformed entertainment. Educators, have your students learn more about his life and career through these websites available in SIRS Issues Researcher and these ProQuest Research Topics available in eLibrary:

The Barnum Museum

Circus Research Topic

Circuses and Sideshows

The Lost Museum

P.T. Barnum and the Management of Spectacle

P.T. Barnum Research Topic

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“Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote.”

Many young people may not realize it wasn’t until 46 years ago that teenagers gained the right to vote. The voting age started to become a controversy during World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered the minimum age for the military draft to 18. Many young people felt it was unfair to be required to fight in the war without the right to have a say in the policies of the nation through voting. The youth voting rights movement began with the slogan, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.”

From 1942 to 1971, Rudolph Jennings of West Virginia, as a congressman and later as a senator, brought 11 pieces of legislation to Congress to lower the voting age to 18 but was unsuccessful. Only a handful of states lowered the voting below 21 and only Georgia and Kentucky allowed voting at age 18.

The 1960s brought the issue to a head at a time when young people were at the center of civic involvement. They often participated in marches, sit-ins, and other forms of protest on civil rights issues for blacks, women, and to end the war in Vietnam. Again a war was the impetus to fuel the movement.

On June 22, 1970, Congress voted to extend the Voting Rights Act to apply to age and allow voting at age 18. After challenges to the law and a ruling at the Supreme Court in Oregon v. Mitchell that Congress could only regulate the age in federal elections not State or local, support swelled for an amendment that would set a uniform voting age of 18 in all elections.

On March 10, 1971, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted in favor of the 26th Amendment and it went to the states for ratification. On June 30, 1971, the amendment was considered officially ratified. On July 5, 2017 the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was certified and signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

The youth turnout was 55.4% in 1972 but then declined over the years reaching 36% in the 1988 election. The tide dramatically turned in the 2008 election of Barack Obama with a youth vote turnout of 49% which is the second highest in history.

The Current Debate

The current controversy with voting age is a call to reduce the age further to 16. As young people have access to more information than ever before, many teens and youth advocates are calling for lowering the voting age. Some countries, such as Austria and Nicaragua, have reduced their minimum voting age to 16.

Proponents say a lower voting age would focus attention on issues of particular interest to young adults. But some say younger teens are still learning about the democratic process and may not yet know how to be responsible citizens. These critics argue that, at 16, children are too immature to vote.

Educators, find the latest coverage of this issue in the SIRS Issues Researcher Leading Issue: Voting Age and in the eLibrary Research Topic: Voting Age.

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

Summer Reading: 5 YA Fiction Titles to Help Students with Controversial Issues

This summer, have your students read Young Adult (YA) fiction to help them understand controversial issues.

“Based on our own experience, we believe that emotion — for good or bad — is a key element of how many arguments are made in the world.”–Larry Ferlazzo, “Common Core Writing and ELLs”

Reviewed YA Books Featured on the Teen Librarian Toolbox blog (School Library Journal)

Students struggle to understand and write about controversial issues. This is where the power of story found in YA fiction can help. And summer is a perfect opportunity for students to read. Reading tears down walls by exposing students to the diverse perspectives and emotions of fictional characters who are dealing with controversial issues. After reading a compelling narrative over the summer, students will be better prepared for research and argumentative writing on controversial issues.

Here are five recent YA fiction titles with a narrative related to a SIRS Issues Researcher Leading Issue:

1. Other Breakable Things by Kelley York and Rowan Altwood
Assisted Suicide Leading Issue

Assisted Suicide Leading Issues in SIRS Issues Researcher

Publisher’s Description: “According to Japanese legend, folding a thousand paper cranes will grant you healing. Evelyn Abel will fold two thousand if it will bring Luc back to her. Luc Argent has always been intimately acquainted with death. After a car crash got him a second chance at life—via someone else’s transplanted heart—he tried to embrace it. He truly did. But he always knew death could be right around the corner again. And now it is. Sick of hospitals and tired of transplants, Luc is ready to let his failing heart give out, ready to give up. A road trip to Oregon—where death with dignity is legal—is his answer. But along for the ride is his best friend, Evelyn. And she’s not giving up so easily. A thousand miles, a handful of roadside attractions, and one life-altering kiss later, Evelyn’s fallen, and Luc’s heart is full. But is it enough to save him? Evelyn’s betting her heart, her life, that it can be. Right down to the thousandth paper crane.”

 

2. Internet Famous by Danika Stone
Social Media Leading Issue

Social Media Leading Issue in SIRS Issues Researcher

Publisher’s Description:“Internet sensation Madison Nakama has it all! Her pop-culture rewatch site has a massive following, and fans across the world wait on her every post and tweet. And now Laurent, a fellow geek (and unfairly HOT French exchange student!), has started flirting with her in the comments section of her blog. But Laurent’s not the only one watching for Madi’s replies…Internet fame has a price, and their online romance sparks the unwanted attention of a troll. When Madi’s ‘real life’ hits a rough patch, she feels her whole world crumbling. With Laurent’s support, can Madi rally her friends across the globe to beat the troll, or will he succeed in driving her away from everything—and everyone—she loves?”

 

3. Factory Girl by Josanne La Valley
Sweatshops Leading Issue

Sweatshops Leading Issue in SIRS Issues Researcher

Publisher’s Description: “In order to save her family’s farm, Roshen, sixteen, must leave her rural home to work in a factory in the south of China. There she finds arduous and degrading conditions and contempt for her minority (Uyghur) background. Sustained by her bond with other Uyghur girls, Roshen is resolved to endure all to help her family and ultimately her people. A workplace survival story, this gritty, poignant account focuses on a courageous teen and illuminates the value—and cost—of freedom. ”

 

4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Police and Body Cameras and Racial Discrimination Leading Issues

Police and Body Cameras Leading Issue in SIRS Issues Researcher

Publisher’s Description: “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”

 

5. American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Illegal Immigration Leading Issue

Illegal Immigration Leading Issue in SIRS Issues Researcher

Publisher’s Description: “On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?”

All titles are linked to reviews by the Teen Librarian Toolbox blog (School Library Journal).

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.

The Stonewall Riots and the Birth of Gay Liberation

Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, New York City, 2011 [Credit: InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike Generic 2.0 license] [via Wikimedia Commons]

Peace, love, and condemnation

We generally consider the 1960s in the United States as an era of peace and love. But the homosexual communities during this decade were commonly condemned by mainstream society.

Homosexuality was still classified as a “mental disorder” by the American Psychiatric Association. Police raids were conducted in establishments known to be “gay-friendly.” Homosexual acts were illegal, and many people were arrested for engaging in them. Some were fined; others were sentenced to long prison terms–even lifetime sentences. There were not many places where a gay man or woman could be open about their sexuality. Countless lesbians and gays lived “in the closet,” an existence in which they could not express their true selves.

The year was 1969

Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, 2011 [Credit: InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike Generic 2.0 license], [via Wikimedia Commons]

Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 Stonewall riots, New York City [Credit: InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, CC BY-SA 3.0] [via Wikimedia Commons]

During the 1960s, New York City was home to the largest gay population in the country. The city was also considered to be one of the most aggressive against this alternative culture.

As the night of June 27 turned to June 28, in the year 1969, the New York City police conducted what they thought would be a routine raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Previous raids always resulted in arrests and not much opposition from the bar’s patrons.

Not on this night.

On this 1969 summer night, the gay liberation movement was born.

Out of the melee, pride emerges

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, gay patrons, regularly harassed by the New York City police, took a stand. Word of the demonstration spread and many joined the riot at the Stonewall Inn. Protests broke out throughout the city. They continued for days, despite police attempts to control the crowds. Shouts of “gay power” and singing of “We Shall Overcome” rang through the streets.

The Stonewall riots inspired local and national dialogue about gay civil rights. Very soon after the riots, a gay advocacy group in NYC was formed and a newspaper was launched. In commemoration of the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first gay pride parades were held in Greenwich Village, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Two years after the riots, nearly every major U.S. city had established a gay-rights organization. And in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

Nearly five decades later…

Forty-eight years after the Stonewall riots, the gay liberation movement has evolved to encompass the civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people. Incredible strides have been made in the LGBT movement:

In 2000, Vermont became the first U.S. state to legalize civil unions between same-sex couples; four years later, Massachusetts was the first to legalize gay marriage. A June 2015 Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage in all states, a huge victory for the LGBT movement.

What constituted a hate crime in the United States was expanded in 2009 to include crimes motivated by the victim’s gender, sexual orientation or identity or disability. 

In 2011, the Obama administration addressed the United Nations and announced that LGBT rights are “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time” and that the country would support international efforts promoting LGBT rights.

Transgender rights became a mainstream issue after the turn of the century and quickly picked up momentum. By 2013, two major federal rulings advanced equal opportunity employment for transgender people. The year 2013 also heralded further progress in the struggle for transgender rights: California enacted the first U.S. law protecting transgender students, and the American Psychiatric Association eliminated its diagnosis “gender identity disorder.”

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, otherwise known as LGBT Pride Month. It was established in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. It is a time of celebration, commemoration, and remembrance: a celebration of living freely, openly, and honestly; a commemoration of all that the LGBT community has contributed and what the LGBT rights movement has accomplished; and a remembrance of members of the LGBT community who lost their lives to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS.

Join SKS and its June Spotlight of the Month in honoring LGBT Pride Month. Learn about the history of the gay rights movement and follow its path as it is forged in the United States and many countries around the world.

“The Stonewall riot may have been the start of a civil rights movement, but it was not the beginning of our history.” ― Tom Cardamone, author, and activist

Classroom Activities for World No Tobacco Day

Every year on May 31, the World Health Organization designates as World No Tobacco Day to advocate for policies to reduce tobacco consumption through education about the health and other risks associated with tobacco use. The theme for 2017 is “Tobacco – a threat to development.” The focus of the campaign is to provide information on the threat the tobacco industry poses “to the sustainable development of all countries, including the health and economic well-being of their citizens.”

No Tobacco Day 2017 Poster

No Tobacco Day 2017 Poster (Credit: World Health Organization)

Here are some learning activity ideas for your classroom to mark World No Tobacco Day:

* Global Benefits of Tobacco Control: Have your students research the benefits of tobacco control for countries around the world through examples provided on the Who Health Organization’s Tobacco Free Initiative. Also, as an option, you can have students dig deeper and use CultureGrams to learn general background information for these countries.

* Debate Over Smoking Bans: Point students to the Smoking Bans Leading Issue on SIRS Issues Researcher. Ask them to argue a viewpoint and list supporting evidence in an essay or oral presentation.

* Global Effects of Tobacco Control: Ask students to use the World Health Organization Tobacco Control Country Profiles to research the way two different countries address tobacco control. Have them list the facts they find and also provide examples of how each country’s tobacco control or lack thereof affects its health and sustainability.

* Public Service Announcement: Have students create a short video directed to their peer group on the harmful effects of tobacco using research from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.

* Infographic: Ask students to create an infographic or poster that illustrates the health effects of tobacco on the body using Piktochart, Canva, or another program.

Let us know your thoughts on teaching students about issues related to tobacco use. Tweet us #ProQuest.

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How Educators Can Choose Controversial Political Issues Ethically

This is the third in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. Previous posts in this series discussed the benefits and aims of teaching controversial political issues.

How Educators Can Choose Controversial Political Issues Ethically


In 2014, school officials in Rialto, California, had to apologize after students were asked to write an argumentative essay on whether the Holocaust occurred. The assignment presented students with a false controversial issue and implied that Holocaust denial was a valid position despite empirical evidence that proves otherwise. Although extreme, this incident demonstrates the ethical perils of choosing topics when teaching controversial political issues.

How can educators choose and present controversial political issues ethically? There are no easy answers. Educators, however, can take some steps to ensure that teaching about a controversial political issue doesn’t become a controversy.

Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy, authors of The Political Classroom, argue that educators should be well prepared and use good professional judgment, which considers classroom context, evidence-based research, and educational aims. To prepare, educators should be able to identify four types of issues and consider three criteria to determine whether an issue is indeed controversial.

Identify the Type of Issue

Is the issue empirical or political?

Empirical issues can be answered through methodical inquiry. All empirical issues have a “correct” answer based on facts, although the answer may not yet be known. Political issues involve matters of public policy. Although empirical data is often used to support public-policy positions, political issues also involve considerations that are not necessarily fact-based, such as ethics and morals.

Is the issue open or settled?

Open issues are a current matter of controversy. Settled issues are no longer controversial and have widespread agreement. Both empirical and political issues can be open or settled.

Here’s an overview of the four types of issues:

1. Open Empirical: An issue that can be answered with facts, but a debate is still occurring because the evidence is conflicting or lacking. Example: Are self-driving cars safer than traditional cars?

2. Settled Empirical: An issue that has been answered with facts. Example: Are opioids addictive?

3. Open Political: A public-policy issue that has multiple, opposing viewpoints. Example: Should the United States implement single-payer health care?

4. Settled Political: A public-policy issue that is no longer considered controversial or open for debate. Example: Should women have the right to vote?

Why is identifying the type of issue important? Educators teaching controversial political issues must be sure not to present settled issues as open. Educators must also recognize the difference between issues that can be answered with facts alone (empirical issues) versus those that can be answered with opinions in addition to facts (policy issues).

Consider the Criteria for Controversy

Identifying whether an issue is empirical or political and open or settled may seem easy, but things are not always so simple. Some issues are empirically settled, but large segments of society may not agree. According to scientists, climate change is real and genetically-modified foods are safe, but sizeable numbers of Americans are skeptical of those positions. Some educators believe it is unethical to present issues as controversial when empirical evidence or their own moral code suggests otherwise. Other educators believe they are doing their students a disservice if they ignore issues that are currently being debated in the political sphere.

Here are three possible criteria to consider when choosing a controversial issue:

1. Behavioral: This criterion considers an issue controversial if sizeable numbers of people in society disagree on the issue regardless of empirical evidence.

Upside: This standard reflects what society thinks.

Downside: This standard may ignore empirical evidence. If sizable numbers of people believe in a conspiracy theory, despite the evidence, is it ethical to present this as a controversial issue?

2. Epistemic: This criterion considers an issue controversial if sizable numbers of people in society disagree on the issue, and there are multiple, logically grounded viewpoints on the issue.

Upside: This standard reflects what society thinks while also considering reasonable, evidence-based viewpoints.

Downside: People disagree on what is considered reasonable, which suggests that educators should ignore controversial political issues if viewpoints are considered unreasonable.

3. Politically Authentic: This criterion considers an issue controversial if it is being debated in the political sphere (e.g., legislation, political campaigns, and protest movements).

Upside: This criterion addresses current issues being debated in the political sphere, which prepares students for life in a democracy.

Downside: Viewpoints on politically authentic issues are not always grounded in logic.

Although The Political Classroom’s Hess and McAvoy recognize that each standard has its merits and disadvantages, they most prefer the politically authentic criterion because it directly addresses an important aim of teaching controversial political issues to students: political literacy.

As stated earlier in the post, there are no easy answers on how to choose and present controversial political issues ethically. But thinking deeply about controversial political issues and using good professional judgment will help.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series on teaching controversial 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.

“The Greatest Show on Earth” Is Closing After 146 Years

“It is the only spectacle I know, that, while you watch it, gives the quality of a truly happy dream.”—Ernest Hemingway

Elephants Performing at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Elephants Performing at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
By Amy n Rob (originally posted to Flickr as Circus 1 (183)) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In a couple of weeks, “The Greatest Show on Earth” will cease to exist. After 146 years, the iconic Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will deliver its final performance on May 21 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The circus, with its acrobats, clowns, and animal acts, has been a staple of American entertainment for over a century. Once lauded as wholesome family fun, the show has become increasingly controversial in recent years. The circus has been targeted for decades by animal rights activists, who say that forcing animals to perform for human entertainment is cruel and inhumane.

In January, Kenneth Feld, chairman, and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros., told The Associated Press that high operating costs combined with declining attendance, changing tastes, and lengthy battles with animal rights organizations, all contributed to the American spectacle’s demise. Feld Entertainment spent years fighting allegations of elephant mistreatment. Despite never losing in court, and winning $25 million in settlements from animal rights groups, the company lost in the court of public opinion. Pressure from animal rights groups and shifting public attitudes toward the use of captive wild animals for entertainment purposes forced Ringling Bros. to end its practice of using performing elephants in May of 2016. The retired circus elephants were sent to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. Ticket sales plummeted following the removal of the elephants from the show.

The company’s decision to close the circus has been hailed as a major victory by animal rights groups. “After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime critic of the circus, wrote in a statement.

But not everyone is happy to see the circus come to an end. About 400 circus employees will soon be out of a job. “It’s traumatic!” said ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, expressing his sadness. “For artists and crew alike, it’s bearing witness to the death of the penultimate icon of our industry. This decision has international ramifications. Artists, the world over, work their entire lives to get to the Greatest Show On Earth.”

What do your students think about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus shutting down? Do they support or oppose the use of animals for entertainment? Do they think using animals for entertainment constitutes cruelty? They can learn more about both sides of the debate in our Animal Cruelty Leading Issue.

SIRS Leading Issue: Animal Welfare

SIRS Leading Issue: Animal Welfare by ProQuest LLC via ProQuest SIRS Issue Researcher

Let us know your thoughts about the closing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Comment below or tweet us using #ProQuest.

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Four Ways to Facilitate Teaching About Immigration

Photo of an unaccompanied child who had crossed the border into the U.S.

South Texas Border – U.S. Customs and Border Protection provide assistance to unaccompanied children after they have crossed the border into the United States. Photo by Eddie Perez [Public Domain], via flickr

Teaching controversial political issues in the classroom is a challenging endeavor. Every day there is a hot button news story that may capture a students’ attention. This is an opportunity to teach the art of dialogue and develop critical thinking skills. One political hot button issue, in particular, has been receiving quite a bit of attention in the news lately – immigration.

Why Should Teachers Discuss Hot-Button Immigration Issues?

While discussing immigration in the classroom might be cause for discomfort among educators, it is an issue which should not be ignored. Immigration is a perennial issue which affects everyone. These days, it is especially relevant that teachers address the issue because of the changing demographics of the classroom. Some students’ personal lives may be directly affected by immigration policies — perhaps one or both of their parents are undocumented immigrants or maybe they are DREAMers. According to the Pew Research Center, there are approximately 3.9 million K-12 students (about 7.3% of the total) with at least one parent who is an undocumented immigrant in the U.S.

Additionally, teaching students about multiple sides of this issue helps them to learn to how to develop analytical and critical thinking skills to prepare them for participation in the broader society. But as with other controversial issues, teaching about immigration can be tricky.

To get you started, here are 4 key ways to introduce the topic of immigration to your classroom:

1. Develop a knowledge base and understanding of the issue.

In order to be prepared to discuss the topic in a balanced and nonjudgmental way, do your research ahead of time. You may want to consult with other teachers, outside experts or your media specialist for materials and information. In addition to developing a general knowledge base, drill down a bit deeper and familiarize yourself with state laws and policies that impact your students and local community. This can help in addressing the topic in a more sensitive manner that is tailored to your class.

While you are researching the topic, you may also want to jot down sensitive questions that might arise in the classroom so you are prepared to address them.

Delve into your library resources. If your school media center or local library has our ProQuest product, SIRS Issues Researcher, take a look at the Immigration Leading Issue for overviews, essential questions, timelines, and editorially-selected articles, which are perfectly geared for middle school and high school students.  Also, check out our latest Spotlight of the Month –which features a quote, content, and quiz on illegal immigration — and the list of teacher resources at the end of this post.

2. Don’t spotlight immigrant students during discussions.

If there are immigrants in your class, do not make them speak as representatives of their group during discussions on immigration. Spotlighting a student in such a way can embarrass them and also reinforce stereotypes about their background. The University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching recommends in its Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or Controversial Topics that teachers “[a]void assumptions about any member of the class or generalizations about social groups. Do not ask individuals to speak for their (perceived) social group.”

3. Help students to view an immigration issue from new perspectives.

Helping students view an immigration issue from a new perspective can not only help them hone their critical and analytical skills but can also teach them empathy. Professor Miguel Vasquez of Northern Arizona University, in his article Teaching Students to Consider Immigration with Empathy, suggests that teachers try incorporating “narratives, including stories, anecdotes, jokes, and myths, [to] help contextualize abstract and theoretical concepts, framing them within students’ life experiences.”

4. Use and teach appropriate terminology when discussing aspects of immigration.

Avoid using terminology that might be considered offensive or pejorative to some. For example, the Library of Congress recently replaced illegal alien with the terms noncitizens and unauthorized immigration. The New York Times’s style guide offers the following advice: “consider alternatives when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question or to focus on actions: who crossed the border illegally; who overstayed a visa; who is not authorized to work in this country.”

Teacher Resources:

This list includes educational resources and lesson plans on both immigration and how to be welcoming and inclusive to immigrant students:

The Best Practical Resources for Helping Teachers, Students & Families Respond to Immigration Challenges

Educating About Immigration: Lessons for Teachers

An Educator’s Guide to the Immigration Debate

How Teachers Can Help Immigrant Kids Feel Safe

Lesson Plan: Incredible Bridges: “Every Day We Get More Illegal” by Juan Felipe Herrera

The New Americans: Lesson Plan: Immigration Debate

Welcoming Immigrant Students Into the Classroom

What Are Sanctuary Cities and How Are They Bracing for Trump’s Immigration Crackdown? (with Lesson Plan)

Share with Us

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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 how to pick topics when teaching controversial 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.

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