Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup
Follow The Annenberg Learner on LinkedIn Follow The Annenberg Learner on Facebook Follow Annenberg Learner on Twitter
Making Civics Real Workshop 3: Public Policy & the Federal Budget  
Home    |    Workshops 1-8    |    Tools for Teaching    |    Support Materials    |    Site Map

Workshop 3

Workshop Session
Lesson Plan
Teacher Perspectives
Student Perspectives
Essential Readings
Other Lessons
Teacher Perspectives: Teaching controversial issues

Leslie Martin: Teaching controversial issues is one of the challenges as well as a lot of the fun in teaching civics. Every person in this country has an opinion on just about every issue. When I take on a controversial topic, I do a variety of things. First, I will ask a student to define the issue. Then I may repeat what he says or I will say, “Tell me again what you said and emphasize these words.” Then I will turn to another student and say, “Give me your take on what he said.” Or, I will ask another student to comment. Sometimes a third student can repeat what the first student has said in his or her own words. So we begin this dialogue. I very rarely give my opinion. I do sometimes define the same issue in two different ways.

My favorite is abortion. Here in the South we have a lot of strongly religious students. I will say, “Students, let me ask you a question. How many of you support the right of an individual person to maintain control over their own thoughts, their own ideas, and their own body?” Almost every student will raise [his or her] hand. Then I will say, “This is a different issue. How many of you believe that life is a precious gift that should be treasured and nurtured from the very beginning?” Every student will raise [his or her] hand. Then I say, “Why is there such a big deal about abortion?” and it immediately opens up. I did it in this class and a student raised her hand [and said], “Well the Bible says its wrong.” I will turn around and say, “Well, that’s true, but what’s the problem with using the Bible as your reference?” Most of the time a student will say, “Because we don’t all believe in the Bible.” I will ask a lot of “why” questions, [e.g.,] “Why do you think this was the law? What is the difference between law and morality and ethics?” I have spent time with this class laying the groundwork [about] the difference between morals and ethics. I use “morals” as an individual development of ideas and “ethics” as more of a consensus of what we agree about in society.

© Annenberg Foundation 2016. All rights reserved. Legal Policy