Discussing Controversial Issues Study

This study examines what students learn from discussing controversial issues in social studies classes. Teaching young people how to discuss controversial issues is often recommended as an especially promising approach to civic education.

However, the research data on which the field currently draws is inadequate, and some of the findings are contradictory. While many civic educators favor the inclusion of issue discussions in the school curriculum, we do not know enough about what students learn through such discussions, how discussions should be structured to maximize valued civic outcomes, and whether participation in the discussions has long-term effects on students’ participation in the political world.

Two research questions guide our work:

1. How do high school students experience and learn from participating in social studies courses that emphasize the discussion of controversial international and/or domestic issues?

2. Do such discussions influence students’ political and civic participation after they leave high school? If so, what are the pathways to participation?


Completed on June 30, 2009