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Curriculum and Instruction News

Hess, McAvoy speak with WFPL about discussing controversial topics in the classroom

December 06, 2016

UW-Madison’s Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy were recently interviewed by Rick Howlett for a report on Louisville’s NPR News Station, WFPL/89.3-FM.

Paula McAvoy
The report aired after Hess and McAvoy were named co-winners of the 2017 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Education.  Hess is dean of the School of Education and holds the Karen A. Falk Distinguished Chair of Education at UW-Madison, while McAvoy is program director at the Center for Ethics and Education.

Howlett explained how Hess and McAvoy were being honored for their study on the discussion of controversial political issues in high school classrooms. They found that teacher-led discussions of topics such as immigration, gun control and abortion should be encouraged and help students become more politically engaged adults.

Hess and McAvoy’s 2014 book, “The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education,” explores the role of teachers in perpetuating serious, thoughtful political deliberation in schools. The book is based on a four-year study of 35 teachers and their 1,000-plus students. Their analysis included 21 schools representing all points on the political spectrum.

Diana Hess
When asked by Howlett what they learned from their research, Hess explained: “We were astonished by how much students were learning from these (political) discussions (in the classroom) and how much they appreciated what they had learned when they reflected back on what had happened to them in high school. So we came away big fans of having these discussions. That being said, they’re challenging. And they’re especially challenging in times like now when there’s a high degree of political polarization.”

To learn more, listen to an archive of the entire report on this WFPL web page.
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