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Avoiding Armageddon
Educational Activities

For Teachers

For Parents

For Discussion Leaders

Controversial Issues

Discussion Guide

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Tips for Discussing Controversial Issues

There are many methods that can be used to teach controversial issues in the classroom. As these issues touch personal beliefs and trigger emotional reactions, these methods are sometimes difficult to conduct in an orderly fashion. The following rules for handling controversial issues help facilitators and teachers maintain control of the situation.

Tips for Discussing Controversial Issues
Recognize the general legitimacy of controversy. Controversy is part of society and students must learn to discuss the issues and problems presented.
Establish ordered ways of proceeding; discussions, debates; take a stand, continuum, mediation. Create and agree on effective rules.
Concentrate on evidence and valid information.
Represent the opposing positions accurately and fairly (maintain balance).
Make sure to clarify the issue, so that everyone understands where there is a disagreement and where there is agreement (to avoid simultaneous monologues).
Identify core issues.
Avoid the use of slogans.
Talk about concrete issues before raising the discussion to a level of abstraction.
Allow the students to question your position.
Admit doubts, difficulties, and weaknesses in your own position.
Teach understanding by restating the perspective of others. Have participants paraphrase what they hear to gain this skill.
Demonstrate respect for all opinions.
Establish means of closure; examine consequences, and consider alternatives.

When presenting information to students, maintain a neutral stance by providing background from varied sources to allow students to draw informed conclusions. For example, students should explore the pros and cons of a legislative act to come to fully understand its merits and deficits from diverse perspectives.

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