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

About this Article

In this resource Patrick Clarke describes an approach to teaching controversial issues that includes analyzing an issue, considering the merits of an argument, and forming an opinion on the basis of critical analysis. A listing of common strategies used to manipulate arguments is provided.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2007 issue (Volume 16, Number 2, pages 47–54) of Our Schools/Our Selves, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives ( The text is reproduced with permission from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Article Sections

  • Introduction
    For the past decade, one of the most popular workshops offered by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has been “Teaching controversial issues—without becoming part of the controversy.”...
  • Step 1: What is the issue about?
    Identify the key question over which there is a controversy. Virtually every controversy turns around three types of questions: those relating to values—What should be? What is best?...
  • Step 2: What are the arguments?
    Once students have determined what the issue is about or the nature of the controversy, they consider the arguments supporting the various positions on the issue...
  • Step 3: What is assumed?
    Once students have considered the arguments in an issue, the critical question becomes what are the assumptions or what is taken as self-evident in the presentation of arguments...
  • Step 4: How are the arguments?
    This is the stage of the process when questions are asked on the politics of the issue. This step is particularly important for students because it can help them understand how information can be used to influence opinion...
  • Conclusion
    At the end of such an inquiry and discussion process, students may be less certain of their position than when they began...
Last updated: February 15, 2007 | (Revision History)
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