Controversial Issues

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Many of the topics addressed in high school social studies and history classes are controversial. That’s because much of our Canadian past is, unfortunately, unpleasant and controversial. Planning is therefore integral. Teaching sensitive issues should not be a pedagogical minefield, rather it should be viewed by teachers as a portal to critical thinking. Research indicates that exploring controversial issues in high school helps students informed and more active democratic citizens, have confidence in their ability to influence government policy, do charitable work, and take an interest in the well-being of their community.
Engaging students in discussion, as a whole class or in groups, is a critical exercise that plays an important role in their development as thinkers. How, then, can you have a thoughtful, productive, respectful discussions in class centred on sensitive issues? Here are some pointers.
Before class begins.
Identify potentially sensitive and controversial topics before the start of the course, unit, or lesson. Make note in the course outline/unit outline that discussions around difficult topics will be handled sensitively. Anticipate and plan for any difficulties that may occur and devise a range of strategies to address them. Examine your own assumptions and views on the topic. Talk to colleagues who have
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Set the tenor from the beginning – build a sense of community in your classroom by helping students get to know each other, as well as agree on ground rules for discussions. Consider rules around inflammatory language, stereotyping, name-calling, personal attacks, and sarcasm. Clearly state what discussion is for — analysis, understanding, and thoughtful evaluation. Preface discussions of sensitive and controversial topics by reminding everyone that some members of the group are likely to have had personal experience with the topic or issue (even though this may not be

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