Controversy as Problem to Solve

EdSpeechCartoon(Courtesy Matt Davies)

In case you’ve been living in a box somewhere, things have been a tiny bit tense in the edu-political complex lately. Depending on where you are, where you teach or what the local political leanings of your community are, you may have experienced this week as either 1) business as usual, 2) a nightmare of controversy and miscommunication. Where you stand on the actual issue is moot. I’m not going to stand on one side or the other- at least not here. What I’m wondering, though, is how we as educators can use our new national pastimes- controversy and vitriol- as teaching tools. Disagreement isn’t really new, is it? There have always been- will always be- differences in our opinions, beliefs and values. What I think is new, however, is our inability to just disagree. We’re unwilling to say, “You know, I think you’re well intentioned and I think that you want the best for everyone involved, but I disagree with you on exactly how to achieve it so let’s keep talking,” without falling into an ad hominem frenzy.

Talk about your teachable moments.

Now, I know we’re all held prisoner by too much curriculum and too little time, but Critical Skills teachers, of all people, also know that curriculum can emerge in unexpected places. How difficult would it be to craft a “controversy’ challenge? It would seem that having something ready for use whenever a new controversy- be it a school budget, a political difference, or global warming- moves into the students’ collective consciousness. Apparently elevating the level of adult discourse beyond name-calling and schoolyard bullying is going to fall to us- as so many things seem to. We have to model it for our students and help them figure out a path from a visceral retort to an intellectual response.

I’d love to hear how you’re doing it- or how you think others could.

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