Volume 16, Number 1 (2024) Facilitating Discussions of Controversial Issues in Difficult Times



Controlling speech in classrooms has been an issue for as long as there have been schools. Who gets to speak, what they are allowed to say, what counts as a legitimate topic for discussion, and what constitutes “truth” have always been determined by the economic and political processes that control education. Recently, these processes have become the subject of public debate and political controversy.  From both the putative right and the putative left, morally inflected demands for control of classroom conversation have made headlines and have played a role in funding, legislation, lawsuits, campaigning, and voting choices. Bans on certain words, trigger warnings, a shift from politics to psychology, a focus on trauma, fear of certain theories (usually those with “critical” in their title), the struggle for control of historical narratives, the censorship of invited speakers, and the framing of identities have all become part of the discussion of what can and cannot be said in a classroom, what will and won’t get funded, and who can be fired for speech.

We invite authors to bring clarity and illumination to these issues from a conceptual, philosophical, historical, and political perspective and to offer ideas about actual classroom practices.

  • What do we mean by a controversy? Do all differences of opinion count as legitimate controversies? What purpose does the discussion of controversies play in the education of democratic citizens?


  • What are some effective practices in the teaching for complexity through the classroom discussion of controversial issues in the different disciplines—literature, science, social studies, history, environmental studies, mathematics, political science, economics, psychology, the arts and theater, etc.


  • What is the legitimate scope of decision-making by teachers and librarians based on professional knowledge, by the democratic control of education through state legislatures and governors, by local vs. state authority, by the rights and concerns of parents.