How to Handle Controversial Issues Inside Your Classroom

By Thomas Stolz Tom Stolz's Portfolio Page


Welcome! This course is about controversial issues in the classroom.

Overview and Purpose

When the name Sandra Bland ripped through the headlines, or Duante Wright, we have a responsibility to our students to talk about these types of things inside the classroom. When things like Q are on the rise, and events like January 6th, 2021 happen in our country, do we not have the right and the ability to talk about such things inside the classroom? When major events rock our country, when people are shown things that make them uncomfortable, make them feel afraid for themselves, for their families, people in their communities, or even classmates in their own school, should they not be able to talk about them in a safe environment? When people talk about Holocaust Denial, LGBTQ+ and their rights, Police brutality, Trans athletes, gun rights, the reasons for the Civil War, things that people might blow off as not school appropriate. These are some of the things that should be talked about inside of our classroom(s).

According to Oulton, Day, Dillion & Grace (2004) the inclusion of controversial issues in the curriculum, it is argued, should help to prepare future citizens for participating in their resolution. (p.2) That is the purpose of this mini-course. Students will look through various issues, they will learn about the types of issues, open or closed, and decide how those very issues impact students inside the classroom and inside of their very communities. Students of this mini-course will start with a brief overview, a tacking on of prior knowledge to figure out what they already know, then they will dive deeper into the what these issues are, how they effect us, then they will learn strategies on how to go about talking about these various issues inside the classroom. Yes, open and closed issues should be handled differently and that should be made apparent as they eventually will create a lesson plan for how they would go about talking about these various things inside of their classroom.

Needs Assessment

Instructional Problem: Throughout my time as a substitute, I have known teachers who just flat out avoid talking about controversial issues that are happening in todays’ world and society. I know that a lot of teachers just flat out refuse to talk about them, how do we become a transformative type of society if we cannot even talk about issues in a safe space, like what school is? Many educators, especially social studies teachers, have to deal with talking about controversial issues that have impacted people throughout history that impact us to this day, like the immigrant crisis, or gun rights, abortion rights, gay/same-sex marriage, trans-rights, all of these things should be talked about inside of the classroom. We have to be able to open up and be honest about these things and let students be able to come up with their own decisions and thoughts on these matters instead of just flat out ignoring them, so students remain confused on such things.

What is being learned: Learners will look at the basics of Controversial Issues. They will look at the who, what, when, where, why, and how in terms of dealing with them. We will talk about many different types and how to tackle such issues inside of the classroom.

About the Learners: The learners in this mini-course, I feel would be mostly English/Social Studies teachers who have trouble tackling such things. I feel that it could be turned into a sort of any type of teacher could use this, since all teachers have to deal with uncomfortable issues inside the classroom. Are we talking stem cell research, are we talking about far leaning political groups, such as Nazis, are we talking about the use of the N-word in certain English literature, are we talking about the misuse/diagnosis of statistics, are we talking about myths involving things like BMI. Like I said, everyone can benefit from it.

Intended Change: I have the hope that people will be able to become more comfortable in talking about certain “taboo” issues, when people gain a better understanding of how to do so in a safe/respectable way. I feel that a lot of teachers do not touch “taboo” topics because they don’t know how, they are afraid of the backlash from parents or administrators. I feel that by learning how to do so comfortably, more things can be talked about. We can have that conversation inside one of the safest places in America, the classroom.

Performance Objectives

Unit 1: Introduction to Controversial Issues

  • Students will be introduced to Controversial Issues.
  • Students will be able to tell the difference between an open/closed C.I
  • Students will analyze different scenarios about C.I to figure out why they might matter.

Unit 2: Why do Controversial Issues Matter

  • Students will understand why Open C.I's impact their classroom.
  • Students will understand why Closed C.I's impact their classroom.
  • Students will be able to make connections between open/closed C.I and why those connections matter.

Unit 3: Strategies for talking about these issues inside the classroom.

  • Students will learn about various issues on how to talk about C.Is in the classroom.
  • Students will develop a strategy to teach C.Is in their very own classroom.
  • Students will create a lesson plan describing how they would talk about a C.I inside their classroom.

Course Units

Unit 1: Introduction to Controversial Issues

When you look at different issues around the country, shootings of unarmed black people, trans-students being denied rights, voting rights being stripped away from people, holocaust denial and things like Climate Change these things matter and are not really talked about inside the classroom when they happen. They will likely not be mentioned at all. This is a problem. Unit 1 will give students a brief overview of what Controversial Issues are. They will learn about open and closed issues. They will also hint at why these things matter. Students will look at various scenarios and determine whether they are open/closed controversial issues.

Unit 2: Why do Controversial Issues Matter Inside of the Classroom

Involving issues talked about in the last unit, students will look at research and various reasons as to why these things matter. Students will understand why these various things impact not only students inside of the classroom, but the communities that they come from. Students will then be asked to summarize and explain the importance of various issues inside of the classroom with their students.

Unit 3: Strategies to Tackle Controversial Issues Inside the Classroom

Students will have access to the information in units before them. Now that students know what issues are and why they matter, students will then look at different strategies or ways to talk about these delicate issues inside the classroom. Students will learn about debate styles, Socratic seminars, presentations, different project ideas to talk about these various things. They will learn how to connect parents into the situations, because communication between parents/students/teachers is so important. Students will eventually craft a lesson plan using everything they know and have learned so far that tackles one controversial issue of their choice and they will give a rational behind doing so using research. ..

Extended Resources

BROWNE, M. NEIL, et al. "THE IMPORTANCE OF CRITICAL THINKING FOR STUDENT USE OF THE INTERNET." College Student Journal, vol. 34, no. 3, 2000, p. 391. Accessed 9 May 2021.

Christopher Oulton, Vanessa Day, Dillon, J., & Marcus Grace. (2004). Controversial Issues: Teachers' Attitudes and Practices in the Context of Citizenship Education. Oxford Review of Education, 30(4), 489-507. Retrieved May 9, 2021, from

Educationweek. (2020, July 30). Black student voices: Classroom discussions on race. Retrieved May 09, 2021, from

Lesson planning. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2021, from

Lesson planning: What is required? (2018, January 24). Retrieved May 09, 2021, from

The big list of class discussion strategies. (2019, July 26). Retrieved May 09, 2021, from