Teaching controversial issues: Talking about religious freedom and the imagined ‘other’
Jerome, L., Liddle, A and Young, H. (2021). Teaching controversial issues: Talking about religious freedom and the imagined ‘other’. British Educational Research Association. online 13 - 16 Sep 2021 British Educational Research Association.
|Authors||Jerome, L., Liddle, A and Young, H.|
Symposium: Teaching Controversial Issues
Lee Jerome, Judy Pace, Helen Young, Sally Elton-Chalcraft and Anna Liddle
The call to tackle controversial issues in citizenship, history, and other social studies disciplines increases as the world faces greater social, political, and economic crises (Kerr & Huddleston, 2015). Teachers’ ability to frame issues and their relevant content knowledge, utilize effective pedagogies, and create a supportive atmosphere is essential (Hahn, 1998). Controversial issues are "those problems and disputes that divide society and for which significant groups within society offer conflicting explanations and solutions based on alternative values" (Stradling et al., 1984, p. 2). They include public issues, related, for example, to terrorism, reproductive rights, and immigration (Hess, 2009), and sensitive questions related to contested histories (Foster, 2014) such as the partition of Ireland and culpability for genocide.
Research shows that the discussion of controversial issues in an open classroom climate develops political knowledge and engagement (Hess & McAvoy, 2015) as well as tolerance (Avery, 2002). But teaching them successfully requires a particular set of knowledge, skills, and dispositions (Hess, 2009). Identifying an issue as controversial may be controversial itself (Camicia, 2008) and issues considered intensely controversial in some countries (e.g. gay marriage, collective health care) may be less so in others, and issues become more or less controversial over time (Hess, 2009).
Therefore, teaching controversial issues often involves risk-taking (Kitson & McCully, 2005). Curricular resources and pedagogical structures can assist greatly, but school curriculum, culture, and policy can impede teachers’ efforts. In this symposium we share recent research that explores curricular, pedagogic, and policy implications of pursuing open explorations of controversial issues.
Paper 1: Learning to teach controversial issues: Developmental and Contextual Factors
How do preservice teachers learn to teach controversial issues in citizenship, social studies, and history? What factors support and constrain their risk-taking? This paper takes up Kitson & McCully’s (2005) continuum of risk-taking and reports findings from a study on preparing preservice teachers to teach controversial issues, conducted in Northern Ireland, England, and the United States. Out of 15 interviewed, 12 creatively used tools from their methods courses to teach lessons that made students explore different perspectives on an important issue. The novices practiced "contained risk-taking" (Author): They espoused social aims but only some taught to these aims. They used provocative resources but critical examination of them was minimal. They used dialogic pedagogies but sustained discussion was limited. Linkages between history and current concerns close to home were made in Northern Ireland but not in England. Factors that supported or constrained risk-taking included curriculum, timetables, students, mentor teachers, and school culture. The paper discusses implications for teacher education and school policy.
Paper 2: Enabling young people to build their understanding of terrorism and extremism? A review of resources.
This paper reviews the teaching resources on the Educate Against Hate website (DfE, on-line), which has been developed by the UK government ‘to provide practical advice, support and resources to protect children from extremism and radicalisation.’ The paper considers the resources in relation to research which has previously indicated what young people say they want and need (e.g. Jerome & Elwick, 2019), exploring their provenance; their adoption of counter-narratives; their levels of bias; their avoidance of issues; and their overall coherence. The paper concludes that the resources fall significantly short of young people’s expectations and often represent simplistic and uncritical counter-narratives. It argues that a genuinely educational approach will take more heed of young people’s opinions, and engage in a more critical exploration of the issues in order to support young people to build their understanding and make sense of their world post-9/11.
Paper 3: Talking about religious freedom and the imagined ‘other’
This paper reports on student discussions in small groups and whole class plenaries related to religious freedom and toleration. We reflect on the ways in which students engaged with the stimulus material offered to them and illustrate how they often used their imagination to move significantly beyond the facts they were given. We argue this reflects a playful commitment to develop cognitive empathy and de-centre their discussions through forms of thought experiment, and that this therefore reflects the need to recognise the legitimate other in such debates. Our findings have implications for whether / how the fundamental British values should be taught more critically as controversial issues.
|Publisher||British Educational Research Association|
|Accepted author manuscript|
File Access Level
|16 Sep 2021|
|Publication process dates|
|Deposited||17 Sep 2021|
|Accepted||17 Aug 2021|
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