Discussing Controversial Topics in the Classroom

Discussing Controversial Topics in the Classroom

Encouraging the discussion of controversial topics in the classroom is a vital aspect of civic education. This practice helps students develop democratic dispositions to respect other points of view, weigh evidence, and become informed about the issues they will confront in the public sphere. Explore strategies by which the state, districts, and schools can support effective classroom discussion of controversial topics.

DemocracyReady NY Resources:

In an assortment of states around the nation, legislatures have taken steps to limit or even ban the instruction and discussion of specific topics in K-12 classrooms. Attempts to inhibit discussion of controversial issues are inconsistent with good civic education as described by knowledgeable educators, both conservative and liberal.

While no such legislation has been enacted in New York, DemocracyReady NY recognizes that the trend itself is having a chilling effect on our teachers’ abilities to engage with controversial issues and teach students skills for civil classroom conversations. To help reverse this trend, we have issued a new white paper, The Importance of Discussing Controversial Issues in the Classroom—Especially Today, specifically endorsing and justifying instruction in controversial subjects.

This report offers recommended policy guidelines to support educators and help parents and students understand the importance of student discussions of controversial issues. It also shares resources from Paula McAvoy, Diana Hess, and other top experts in the field of civic education and addressing controversial subjects with students.

Read the full report here. 

Drawing on the white paper, the New York State School Boards Association, a member of DemocracyReady NY, has updated its model policy on teaching controversial issues to provide school boards throughout the state with tools for permitting and encouraging such classroom discussions in their schools.

Read NYSSBA's model policy here.

Resources from Our members:

Activities & Advocacy Opportunities:

Back to skip to quick links