Guiding Questions to Support Civil Discourse
It is appropriate for teachers to select complex topics for classroom study or discussion, including those that might be viewed as or become controversial. Teachers should consider the needs, interests, and maturity of their students, but we cannot unilaterally avoid challenging topics if we expect to foster critical and creative thinking skills and create spaces for civil discourse about current events and complex issues that are relevant to students’ lives.
Teachers can use the following questions as a guide to considering issues and planning for subsequent instruction.
- Is the issue appropriate for your students, given their age, maturity, culture, knowledge, and interests?
- Does the issue contribute to the attainment of district goals and objectives, consistent with the approved curriculum framework?
- Does the issue provide for the study of differing positions and opinions?=
- Can the issue be presented impartially and objectively?
- Will there be an accurate, factual, and balanced presentation of materials, readily available for all students?
- Can credible sources be cited if materials are prepared for discussion or distribution?
- Is it necessary to discuss the rationale for studying the issue and/or the approach to instruction with a principal? If unsure, default to yes.
- Does information need to be shared with parents/guardians in advance or as a follow-up to the conversation?
- Should students/parents have the right to opt out of the conversation or pursue an alternative assignment?
- How might you anticipate and prepare for possible student comments or responses, particularly those that may be extreme or particularly biased? How might you prepare your students for these situations?
- How might you help students explore arguments on opposite sides of the issue, as well as identify and clarify possible prejudices and biases?
Topics for discussion often present themselves in our classrooms, via student questions/comments or current events that are relevant to curriculum or student interests. Teachers should feel comfortable providing a space for these conversations, as time allows, while ensuring that all students feel safe sharing their ideas and perspectives. This is especially important for students with ideas that run counter to the majority opinion. Teachers should refrain from sharing their own beliefs and/or influencing others, working to ensure that accurate, factual information is presented in a balanced manner.