Politics, Partisanship, and Pedagogy: Teaching Controversial Issues

Snapshot: While planning for their Power of Persuasion project, the Northern High 10th Grade social studies team debates what topics are appropriately controversial for school and what topics endanger safe and inclusive classroom spaces.


Case Description: "Politics, Partisanship, and Pedagogy: What Should be Controversial in the Classroom?" probes the challenges that emerge when teachers must balance competing democratic commitments to educating critical thinkers who engage with diverse viewpoints, on the one hand, and instilling common civic values, on the other. The case focuses on Northern High School’s tenth grade social studies team as they debate potential topics for an upcoming project, the Power of Persuasion. In deciding whether to prompt students to openly debate Donald Trump’s proposal to create a registry for new Muslim immigrants, Northern’s social studies teachers must weigh their commitments to professional neutrality, civic education, democratic values like religious freedom and respect for persons, and students’ social-emotional well-being.

Groups may want to use the case study discussion protocol to guide their conversation. 

Additional Resources:

  • In addition to the case, we have also created a Facilitator's Guide specific to this case to help groups tackle the challenging ethical questions raised.
  • We have also created a shortened version of the case for those who would like to use the case but have limited time for discussion.
  • Here is a Reader's Theater version of the case used at Teaching and Learning Conference at APSA

See one of the case authors discuss the case below!