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Teaching controversial issues:
A four-step classroom strategy for clear thinking on controversial issues

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At the end of such an inquiry and discussion process, students may be less certain of their position than when they began. That is entirely an outcome of having more information and going through a process that requires critical reflection and open mindedness. Most importantly, they will have arrived at their conclusions through their own deliberation, and we teachers will have provided the lamp of learning, not the pointer and the answer book.

Common strategies for manipulating arguments:

  • ad hominem strategy: Judgment based on who said something rather than on the merit of the statement.
  • either-or tactic: Forcing a choice by presenting only two possibilities when there may be others.
  • extreme examples: Used to prove a point, to slant an argument, to support a prejudice.
  • false analogies: An analogy that makes an inappropriate connection or comparison.
  • irrelevant appeals: appeals to emotion, patriotism, tradition.
  • leading statements, slogans: Designed to damage credibility, encourage hostility, create a false impression.
  • polarized thinking: Us/them, strong/weak, rich/poor, good/bad; encourages distrust, suspicion; presents limited and false choices.
  • scapegoats: Assigning blame.
  • straw person: Creating a caricature of a person or group.

This article and the BCTF workshop Teaching Controversial Issues is based on The Media and Public Issues: A guide
for teaching critical mindedness
, by Walter Werner and Kenneth Nixon, 1990, ISBN
0-920354-27-0, Althouse Press, 1137 Western Road, London, ON, N6G 1G7.

Patrick Clarke is Assistant Director in the Professional and Social lssues Division of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.


Last updated: February 15, 2007 | (Revision History)
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