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Posts Tagged ‘civics’

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.

It’s Tax Day … Yay.

It’s April 15–Tax Day–the most dreaded Tax Formsday of the year for many Americans, especially those who have waited until the last minute. But, how did it all start?

The first federal income tax came in the form of the Revenue Act of 1861, which sought to pay the Union’s massive debt resulting from the Civil War. The legislation was repealed, replaced and declared unconstitutional. The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act was passed in 1894. While it had its supporters and opponents, it also was stricken down as a violation of the Constitution’s ban on direct taxation. The income tax was here for good with the 1913 ratification of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which removed apportionment requirements on taxation.

Tax Day was originally March 1, then March 15 and was moved back to April 15 in 1955. And, on this day every year, Americans turn in their forms and wonder where all the money goes.

Dig into eLibrary to find out more about taxes and just about any other topic. Here are some other eLibrary resources devoted to taxation:

For a good overview of taxation, see our Research Topic page: Taxation

This is a general article on tax day history.

See these Research Topics for information on other tax topics: Tax Evasion, Capital Gains Tax, Flat tax

 

 

 

The Government Shutdown and Recent Budget Battles

Day three of government shutdownOn October 1, 2013, the U.S. government went into  a partial shutdown, resulting in the furlough of 800,000 federal workers, the closing of national parks and government offices and sending cable news commentators into a frenzy. The basis for this shuttering of the government is a showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the previously enacted Affordable Care Act. House Speaker John Boehner has been pressured by members of his party and the Tea Party Movement to defund or delay “Obamacare,” which they see as a potentially disastrous overreach of federal government, and such provisions were included in a continuing resolution, a bill that would temporarily fund the federal government until a budget is approved or another continuing resolution is accepted. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were resistant to any change in the the ACA, which they see as settled business and a signature accomplishment of Obama’s presidency.

There have been numerous shutdowns in the past, the most recent being a 1996 impasse over funding for various federal programs. The current battle is latest of numerous bouts of brinksmanship that have happened in recent years, including the debt-ceiling and “fiscal cliff” fight that led to the 2013 sequestration, a raft of across-the-board budget cuts that many warn will negatively affect the economy.

Also complicating the current picture has been a looming mid-October deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling or risk having the U.S. default on payments to creditors and the resulting damage to the reputation of American creditworthiness.

eLibrary’s large collection of newspaper, magazines, books and other resources allow for effective research on the workings of the federal government and up-to-the-date content on current events. Follow the links in the text above and search in eLibrary for Research Topics pages and plenty of other documents related to federal budgets and the political battles that surround them. Research Topics are returned with regular results while searching in eLibrary (you can use the lists that drop down as you are typing search terms to aid in discovering them) and they can also be found by clicking the “Browse Research Topics” button. Among other RTs that will be useful for context and background on this topic include National Debt and Deficit, Economy of the United States, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, Branches of the U.S. Government, Republican Party (U.S.), Democratic Party (U.S.)