IB-2006-D (April 2006)
Author: Dr. Arnold Burron
The recent national attention given to a classroom recording of Colorado teacher Jay Bennish reinforces the need for school districts to implement a controversial issues curriculum. Controversial issues are not to be avoided but to be embraced, if done properly. To ensure objectivity and balance, the author proposes teachers engage students with a seven-step analytical process known as Issues Analysis. The author further advises that schools use an “opt-in” communication to persuade parents of the importance of student participation in the Issues Analysis process.
The national spotlight on Colorado teacher Jay Bennish and his alleged left-wing politicization of his high school geography class ought to be of concern to all teachers, whether liberal or conservative. Content that deviates from the norm, or which is considered to be “too controversial,” will result in a firestorm of criticism for any teacher who has the temerity to challenge majority opinion or question prevailing values. Many issues are so incendiary that a barrage of criticism from every point on the political spectrum will be sure to follow.
Understandably, public school administrators see no virtue in curricular content that they perceive as needless incitement to controversy. Further, because of the influence of syndicated talk radio, cable television and the Internet, the fallout from any local flare-up affects teachers all across the county. Who can blame educators if they avoid controversial issues at the very time in our history when they ought to be included as a part of every social studies classroom in the nation?