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May 29, 2003

the risks of controversy in schools

I'm in Denver, at the Education Commission of the States, talking about state standards in civics and social studies. The topic is what students should know, think, feel, and do about politics and civil society. The group is very well informed and represents all the relevant disciplines and professions. So far, there have been few (if any) broad and systematic disagreements. Most experts feel some tension about standards, accountability, and testing. They ask themselves: are these things inherently harmful, since they reduce schools' capacity to operate democratically, or do we need good standards and tests to encourage civics? There was also a very interesting discussion that pitted academics (including me) against a school superintendent of a fairly major school system. The academics worry that schools are suppressing discussion of controversial political issues. The superintendent told horror stories about teachers who proselytize for various fringe political causes. I certainly could see his point about the risks—both moral and political—of encouraging teachers to bring politics into the classroom. On the other hand, if we prevent teachers from advocating for political causes, then there is a risk that students will never meet any adults who are politically active and articulate.

Posted by peterlevine at May 29, 2003 10:53 AM

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