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In the last few years, many high school teachers have changed how they are teaching civics in their classrooms. Rather than straying away from political discussions, many are using innovations in teaching to make their classrooms a space for students to engage with each other while discussing these controversial topics. Diana E. Hess, Dean of the School of Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-author of the book The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, and co-author Paula McAvoy, Program Director for the Centers for Ethics & Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison, studied how classrooms engage in these activities. Their goal was to find out how to best facilitate these discussions and the positive benefits that they had on students.
During their research, Hess and McAvoy observed different ways to make class discussions conducive to learning. Hess explains that one way to ensure that students had a good experience was to inform the students beforehand of the topic, so they could do research and prepare. She also noticed that students had an understanding of how to engage in controversial discussions with each other, but still maintain relationships with each other after class. Hess states that it was also essential that teachers were capable of directing the conversations to ensure that all views were being expressed. Most importantly, instructors had to make sure that offensive statements were omitted. In order for political discussions to work properly in the classroom, both the teachers and the students had to understand how to interact with each other in a mature and educational manner.
So, what are the long-term effects that these discussions have on students? McAvoy explains that it encourages young people to get more involved with campaigns and take political action much earlier on in their lives. By encouraging students to think critically about controversial and political topics, teachers are able to foster development and excitement for political conversation in younger generations.
Diana E. Hess, Dean of the School of Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-author of The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education
Paula McAvoy, Program Director for the Centers for Ethics and Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-author of The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education