Three important considerations when teaching controversial issues are:
- a teacher’s own bias,
- a teacher’s fear of attracting unwanted and possibly negative attention, and
- a teacher’s lack of confidence in dealing with an issue based primarily on unfamiliarity with its details.
The following cautions are listed to help teachers present controversial issues fairly and with sensitivity:
- Controversy is best taught through discussion.
- The teacher has responsibility for ensuring exploration of the issues so that discussion promotes understanding.
- Students are expected to analyze any controversial issue by asking the following questions:
- What is the issue about: values, information or concepts? What is truth?
- What are the arguments? What are the positions and/or validity of these arguments? Who is presenting the arguments? Are they “insiders” or “outsiders”?
- What is assumed? Are the assumptions based on prejudice, racism or ethnocentricity?
- How are the arguments manipulated? What are the politics of the issue? What role did the media play?
Faulty Arguments to Watch For
- Scapegoating: Assigning blame.
- Polarized Thinking: Us/them, weak/strong, rich/poor, good/bad; encourages distrust, suspicion; presents limited and false choices.
- Ad Hominem Strategy: Judgement based on who said something rather than on the merit of the statement.
- Irrelevant Appeals: Appeals to emotion, patriotism, tradition.
- Either/Or Tactic: Forcing a choice by presenting only two possibilities when there may be others.
- Leading Statements, Slogans: Designed to damage credibility, encourage hostility, create a false impression.
- False Analogies: Make an inappropriate connection or comparison.
- Extreme Examples: Used to prove a point, to slant an argument, to support a prejudice.
Detecting such tactics gives students a useful tool for assessing an argument and making a judgment on an issue.
From the BCTF resource book “Teaching Human Rights”.