Dealing with hot topics in the classroom is a powerful yet complex process. It not only admits to the classroom an exterior conflict, but may also spark conflict within the classroom. Teachers often avoid addressing sensitive issues because they fear not being able to handle them, or that somebody or some group might be offended.
Seen from the educational perspective, this is counterproductive. School should be a place where it is safe to talk about difficult topics. Teachers should be prepared and supported to handle such topics in a constructive way, turning this into a learning experience. This in turn can help to educate children for democratic citizenship, for active participation in the public sphere. This is particularly important at a time of growing alienation and disengagement of citizens from traditional democratic practices and institutes.
In the past few years, controversial events and issues have provoked educators to spontaneously put together recommendations to help their colleagues discuss hot topics in the classroom. This mobilization reveals the urgent need for educational strategies for teachers confronted with challenging views among students and the demand to discuss complex and divisive issues. While a number of debating tools exist and are practiced in educational settings, these traditional tools do not tackle specifically hot topics, and moreover, based on reasoned & tempered debating, they fail to consider the emotional implications of sensitive issues.
To answer this need, the Evens Foundation will develop three pilot-projects in Belgium, France and Poland for (future) teachers & educators on how to deal and debate with students on sensitive and/or controversial topics, taking the different context into consideration. In a second phase all experiences will be shared between the project partners resulting in a European kit with a set of strategies, methods and tools to embrace controversy at school.