Dealing with Controversy

What should you do if a discussion may cause concern or discomfort for some of students? What should you do if you feel strongly about an issue?

Setting ground rules can help maintain or restore civility should something happen in the classroom to throw them off balance. The article Teaching Controversial Issues discusses how to prepare the groundwork if you know controversial issues will be introduced. This involves understanding the developmental stage of student thinking, knowing what issues might cause controversy, laying the groundwork for such discussions prior to their occurrence, and moderating them.

Sometimes the news raises major issues -- war, terrorist acts, natural disasters -- of deep concern. But, these may not be part of the course. Should you ignore them? Should you briefly acknowledge them and move on? Should you have a full-fledged discussion? Consider these guidelines.

When an explosive or disturbing issue arises in class, students might get angry with each other or with the instructor. Then, the instructor must de-escalate the conflict. Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom uses an example of a situation sparked by a racial comment and how the instructor managed it. It also addresses how instructors might deal with their own strong feelings.