Controversy in the Classroom
Religion, politics, and personal philosophies have the power to divide families, nations, and the world, yet they are an inevitable part of daily life.
With such a sharp contrast, it begs the question, what is the role of controversial views in the classroom?
While some could argue that multiple viewpoints permit educational discussion—the ideology of teachers introducing their stance on controversial issues in the classroom remains unsure.
According to a Highlander survey, in which 35 teachers were examined, 5% claimed to frequently reveal their thoughts on controversial issues with students, 57% stated they occasionally express their views, and 37% mentioned their preference in avoiding conversation on debatable topics.
Survey statistics suggest Seaholm teachers are divided in the notion of voicing their opinions, questioning the teachers’ role in portraying their beliefs.
71% of teachers replied that they would communicate with students when asked their beliefs on controversial topics, while 28% stated they would rather dismiss the question.
Teachers expressed their beliefs in an anonymous survey submitted by the Highlander.
“I can’t say that I have [expressed controversial issues to a class], as I am too afraid that sharing my opinion will get me in trouble as a classroom teacher,” an anonymous teacher said. “My position as I am aware is to stay neutral in the presence of students.”
Principal Dee Barash has not had to review the school policy on the expression of controversial issues. She asserts that teachers are welcome to share their views with students, provided that the discussion on their belief is not being imposed among students. Rather, Barash finds small discussion over these opinionated issues beneficial towards students.
“I’m allowed to have an opinion about things, and our teachers are allowed to have an opinion, and I think that if we don’t agree sometimes you guys go home and tell your mom, ‘you’ll never believe what Mrs. so-and-so believes,’ and that’s good; there’s nothing wrong with that,” Barash said. “I think sometimes that’s more engaging, it causes you to do a little more research and think a little bit, so I think it’s good.”
Although Seaholm teachers vary statistically about sharing contentious perspectives with students, a majority of 60% agreed that engaging and exposing students to political/religious/controversial issues holds importance.
“I try very hard to express both sides of controversial issues and try very hard to present them in an unbiased way,” an anonymous teacher said. “There is room in this world for many opinions and mine is not necessarily right just because I am the teacher. It is important for students to explore issues on their own, and become critical thinkers. They don’t always need to be told what to think.”
Some teachers believe when their own personal principles are introduced to the classroom, it acts as valuable discussion. In some instances, it helps in promoting life lessons to the students.
For example, one anonymous teacher shared his/her beliefs on homosexuality to demonstrate the necessity of respect towards others.
“I heard male students in my class calling each other gay in a derogatory fashion,” the anonymous teacher said. “Thus the next day, I spoke to the class about how it is NOT okay to use the word ‘gay’ as a name-calling word. I expressed that I have many friends who are gay, all of whom I respect and admire.”
In another Highlander survey, in which 47 students were examined, 58% responded that their teachers present their viewpoints, 30% claimed that theirteachers’beliefs were ‘not really’ present, while 10% all together stated controversial views weren’t brought up in their classes.”
The student survey suggests a higher percentage of controversial discussion in comparison to the teacher survey.
While 50% of students expressed that their teacher’s beliefs don’t greatly affect them, in consensus with the teacher survey, a margin, 53% agreed that when teachers share their input on political/religious/controversial issues it acts as meaningful discussion.
According to an anonymous student, when teachers are transparent in their views, it allows students to analyze arguments, and from a different perspective.
“The teacher discussed their position on birth control and insurance, it was part of the lesson but it swelled deeper,” the anonymous student said. It started a discussion in the class and we had a really good talk. When teachers share but don’t press there opinions upon students it greatly helps the class progress in what they’re learning.”
Teacher’s shared viewpoints mainly demonstrated positive feedback from students. However, discussion of opinionated issues can become a sensitive topic. This was demonstrated through the 34% of students who claimed to have felt uncomfortable or offended when their teachers expressed their stance on a debatable topic.
AP Government teacher, Scott Craig mentions the importance of respecting students’ opinions, to prevent the idea of imposed beliefs.
“So I go a little bit further than other teachers [in expressing beliefs], but you have to walk a fine line, you always have to respect kids who have the other opinion,” Craig said. “…Bring up the other opinion, it may not be my own personal opinion, but so they can see the criticisms on both sides.”
However, Flex teacherRobin Moten necessitates the students’ need to take into consideration other viewpoints, before forming judgment.
According to Moten, it’s sometimes difficult for students to realize their teacher’s vulnerabilities. When teachers choose to be honest with students, they’re putting themselves on the line.
Moten said that effective sharing of beliefs could ultimately have an advantageous effect for students.
“I hope more teachers, begin to do this [share viewpoints] and begin to see the importance of presenting ourselves as human beings and that yes it makes you vulnerable, but students are vulnerable too,” Moten said. And, since we’re all in this together, it can make for a really terrific experience, it doesn’t have to be one way or another.”