Teaching secondary geography
Teaching secondary geography

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

4.2 Teaching approaches to controversial issues

Almost any topic can become controversial if individual groups offer differing explanations about events, what should happen next and how issues should be resolved, or if one side of an issue is presented in a way that raises the emotional response of those who might disagree.

(Oxfam, 2006, p. 2)

While you might decide to teach whole lessons or units focusing on a controversial issue, they are so embedded within geographical learning it is worth including ‘values and attitudes’ as you plan any lesson. This will help you to identify relevant issues, plan to support students’ learning and to anticipate a range of possible reactions from students.

Reflection point

How will you feel if some students say they ‘don’t care’?

How will you tackle feelings of helplessness among students to instead engender a sense of empowerment?

Activity 10 Approaches to teaching controversial issues in geography

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Table 2 lists four teaching approaches that could be adopted when covering moral or controversial issues.

Choose a potentially controversial issue that you might have to teach in geography. Then, using Table 2 or a mindmap, note down the reasons why you might adopt each approach and the dangers to be aware of. Note: you could use different approaches at different times within the same lesson.

Table 2 Possible approaches towards teaching controversial issues in geography
ApproachReasons to adopt this approachDangers to be aware of when adopting this approach
Neutral
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Committed
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Devil’s advocate
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Balanced
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Words: 0
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Comment

Remember that as a teacher you may have considerable power when discussing controversial issues. Also, think about stereotypes related to teachers and geography teachers in particular. How might these affect how students’ respond to your stance? Be careful not to preach to students but help them to explore their own values and choices.

Reflection point

Can you identify instances when your own values might affect your ability to be neutral?

It may be that you unwittingly promote a ‘green agenda’ or take a stand on social justice issues through your selection of topics, learning activities, resources and teaching. Are there times when neutrality is inappropriate?

You cannot remain neutral in cases of racism. In England, for example, the Race Relations Amendment Act of 2000 states that schools must ‘eliminate unlawful racial discrimination’. The Education Act of 2002 requires schools to ‘promote spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development’. In addition, since 2007, English schools have been responsible for promoting ‘community cohesion’, which should be seen as a common vision and sense of belonging; a society in which the diversity of people’s backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and valued.

In other cases, try to balance issues so that students can form their own opinions. However, if discussing a subject such as child labour, ‘you have a moral responsibility to highlight that child labour is considered to violate human rights’ (Royal Geographical Society, n.d.).

If you wish to consider these issues at greater length, you may find the resources at Controversial issues: guidance for schools [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] from the Citizenship Foundation useful and Mitchell (2013) has a concise but in-depth discussion of teaching controversial issues.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371