Teaching controversial issues...where controversial issues really matter

Article

Keith Barton & Alan McCully, last updated: 31st May 2007

This is the fourth in a series of Teaching History articles about teaching history in N orthern Ireland co-authored by Alan McCully. The first two articles (in editions 106 and 114) outlined teaching strategies to help pupils in N orthern Ireland understand and relate to complex and often controversial issues from Ireland’s past, particularly in relation to the present. The third article (in edition 120) considered the significance and relevance of recent research into history teaching in N orthern Ireland from the perspective of both pupils and teachers, proposing a spectrum of how teachers approach controversial issues in the classroom: from risk-taking, to containment to avoidance. It also introduced a very explicit link between the issues facing teachers in Northern Ireland and in England, where history teaching is not as controversy-free as is sometimes supposed. The article in this edition draws on a considerable wealth of international scholarship to present some well-founded and practical suggestions about how teachers might handle controversial issues in the classroom. Although the emphasis is on teaching in N orthern Ireland, the potential, as in the previous articles, to translate the messages and strategies to other contexts is clear. What is more, the authors’ knowledge and experience of history teaching in N orthern Ireland makes what they have to say about teaching controversial issues especially compelling, wherever you teach.

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