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Three important considerations when teaching controversial issues are:

  1. a teacher's own bias,
  2. a teacher's fear of attracting unwanted and possibly negative attention, and
  3. 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:
    1. What is the issue about: values, information or concepts? What is truth?
    2. What are the arguments? What are the positions and/or validity of these arguments? Who is presenting the arguments? Are they "insiders" or "outsiders"?
    3. What is assumed? Are the assumptions based on prejudice, racism or ethnocentricity?
    4. 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”.