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The ultimate purpose of teaching is to expand the youth’s knowledge of the world so that they are able to make rational and logical decisions for the welfare of citizens in a culturally diverse, democratic society. To help youth establish a foundation of problem-solving, decision making, global awareness, civic knowledge, and empathy, a teacher must add controversial topics in their lessons.
“Controversy” has been defined as a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of conflicting points of view. The word was coined from the Latin controversia, as a composite of controversus “turned in an opposite direction”, from contra “against” and vertere, to turn, or versus, hence, “to turn against”. Well known controversial topics include politics, religion, sex, history, philosophy, economics, science, culture, military, society, the media, gender, and race.
Dealing with controversial topics in teaching and learning affects the peaceful environment of the classroom. Therefore, most of the teachers do not discuss controversial topics. Such topics are ignored and skimmed without going deep into their complexities. Why? It is because most schools have an underlying responsibility to serve their varied public equally. The discussion of controversial topics violates this agreement, as it is nearly impossible to give a fair hearing to all opinions. Hence, schools exclude controversial topics and have a neutral status. They stick to the value-free teaching of the knowledge and skills that are considered as true, important, and have been investigated through the consensus within the community. In some cases, teachers make students discuss controversial topics through means which eliminate the demonstration of competing perspectives. They verify the rightness of a particular point of view, while competing perspectives are dismissed. This dismissal is sometimes done systematically, haphazardly, or passionately. In all cases, competing for points of view is discouraged. They do this because some teachers tend to think that it is their moral duty to transfer the dominant religious, social, and political values of the schools in which they work.
Nevertheless, there are reasons for teachers to engage students in discussing controversial topics for a greater understanding of the world, and exercise critical thinking to solve problems and provide relevance to face difficult situations. It empowers students with an awareness of the depth and the breadth of these issues. The classroom can serve as an ideal platform from which students can establish a foundation of critical thinking. First, teachers should state their points of view on controversial topics in the classroom rather than hiding them. Second, teachers should foster the pursuit of truth by ensuring that competing views of students receive a fair hearing through critical discourse. Teachers’ views should be owned, not disguised. They should disclose the views in the direct response to the students’ questions, but not in a way that intimidates students’ psychology. This will allow teachers to respect students’ points of view and vice versa.