Ohio Schools Achievement Committee to Review Guidelines for Teaching Controversial Topics

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

The Ohio schools board has drafted a framework that will set teacher guidelines to be used when teaching controversial topics in the classroom. The proposal is not a lesson plan, but rather an optional template that guides teachers to enable students to form judgments by critically analyzing all sides of a controversial subject.

The Ohio schools board has requested their Achievement Committee review the draft and make recommendations on its final structure. Some Ohio schools districts already use templates that are similar to the draft guidelines, so it is not something new for all Ohio schools.

A statement within the draft states:  “The goals of discussions of controversial issues are for students to have a better understanding of the issue and form a reasoned judgment that is based upon a critical analysis of the facts and arguments and is open to revision as conditions change.”

The draft sent to the committee by the Ohio schools board was released in early September 2006. It provides sample rules for teachers to give to students before a classroom debate begins on a controversial topic. It also identifies the student skills required in the Ohio schools’ standards that need to be addressed during such discussions. The template will help teachers target these specific student reasoning skills, which can be applied to all controversial subjects when discussed within the classroom setting. The intent is to provide students with content that is rich and challenging, as well as allowing such classroom discussions without legal opposition.

Since the release of the proposed guidelines, however, opposition already is growing. Patricia Princehouse, a teacher at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, believes such guidelines will allow religion-based challenges to the subject of evolution with teachers using the guidelines as a cover to teach creationism.

She noted, as an example, that the term “critical analysis” already was used in an Ohio schools lesson plan that encouraged students to seek evidence for and against evolution. The Ohio schools board eliminated that lesson plan and the state science standard to which it corresponded in February 2006. The Ohio schools board, however, has asked its Achievement Committee to determine whether the deleted curriculum should be replaced.

Princehouse further noted that committee members might add more specific anti-evolution wording to the proposed template, but Committee Co-Chairman Jim Craig stated that no such proposal has been made.  The guidelines are for all controversial subjects, not just evolution. Such topics include but are not limited to global warming, immigration, evolution and the national debt. The template will support teaching all controversial subjects.

Craig also stated that he wants a draft upon which both sides can agree. He said he does not wish the committee to recommend final guidelines to the board, if a compromised final draft cannot be reached.