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Showing posts from February, 2018

Guest Blog: Teaching About Religion

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by Benjamin P. Marcus, Religious Literacy Specialist for the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute
For the past weeks, Shawn and Mary Ellen have addressed political polarization and classroom practice in a series of blog posts that examined what we can do as educators to bridge the seemingly cavernous fracture in the heart of our democracy. While political difference looms largely in current and controversial issue discussions, another point of polarization is religion. How can we promote classroom dialogue and understanding about some of our deepest differences in society? In this guest blog post, Benjamin Marcus highlights how the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum can support teachers with strategies that embrace the inquiry arc of the Illinois Social Studies standards.

Do you feel confident teaching about religion? Are you familiar with the concepts and tools used by religious studies scholars? What is the difference between teaching religion to encourage fai…

Polarization and Classroom Practice, Part IV: Responding to Contemporary Challenges

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
In the first three posts of this four part series, Shawn profiled the political typologies of educators, examined the promise of controversial issues discussions in classrooms to mitigate political polarization’s long-term, deleterious effects, and explored polarization itself, determining the extent to which it is a mass or elite-driven phenomenon. Mary Ellen followed with applicable classroom resources, and we conclude today with a collaborative piece responding to contemporary challenges of classroom practice.

Last month, our Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors gathered for their midyear touchpoint in Champaign and political polarization was in the air. Specifically, what can teachers themselves do to mitigate it? Three questions that surfaced are listed below, followed by our preliminary responses.

1. I teach in a politically polarized community and fear that one misstep on my part will draw the ire of parents. How do I protect myse…

Classroom Resources to Address Political Polarization in the Classroom

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
For the past few weeks, Shawn has shared his insights on political polarization and classroom practice, addressing the political typologies of educators, how to mitigate polarization’s harmful effects and fissures among elites and the masses. Throughout this series of blog posts, Shawn has documented how the use of current and controversial issues discussions in the classroom can “bridge this seemingly cavernous fracture at in the heart of our democracy.”

The use of controversy in the classroom can be daunting for many educators. In an article for the November 2014 edition of Educational Leadership titled, “Debates and Conversations: From the Ground Up,” Dr. Diana Hess and Dr. Paula McAvoy from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, state that many teachers avoid student to student exchanges because, “Some teachers worry that students don’t know how to talk to one another productively about issues. Others believe that students don’t kn…

Polarization and Classroom Practice, Part III: Fissures Among Elites and the Masses

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
In the first two posts of this four part series, I profiled the political typologies of educators and examined the promise of controversial issues discussions in classrooms to mitigate political polarization’s long-term, deleterious effects. Today, we’ll examine polarization itself and discuss the extent to which it is a mass or elite-driven phenomenon.

Conventional wisdom suggests that polarization is a mass phenomenon, but there is significant scholarly debate about the extent to which it is merely a byproduct of political elites. The latter is the long-standing claim on political scientist Morris Fiorina, updated in his recent book titled Unstable Majorities.

The parties are certainly more polarized than any time since the turn of the 20th Century, resulting in bi-polar choices for an electorate that isn’t as energized on the ideological margins. Fiorina claims that a long line of Democratic (Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Clinton) an…