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 know enough content to deliberate well.”

How can educators help students build the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary for productive dialogue that can promote understanding and bridge the divide? There are several resources teachers can use to “get the conversation started” in their classroom.

  • The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education by Hess and McAvoy share what best practice looks like in a “political classroom“ where students deliberate the essential question, “How should we live together?”
  • Facing History and Ourselves has several protocols to establish norms of civil discourse. One my favorites is classroom contracting.
  • #sschat has several archived discussions where teachers and social studies organizations have shared resources and best practice related to current and controversial issues discussions.
  • Project Implicit by Harvard University has an on line assessment that students and educators can take to understand their own social attitudes and biases that lead to polarization and misunderstanding.
  • The Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum has free on-line professional development to, “help educators apply First Amendment principles to the real-life challenges that teachers and administrators face each day in religiously diverse classrooms”.
  • The National Institute for Civil Discourse has the “Text, Talk, Vote” program to leverage texting to engage students in discussions about the importance of voting and civic engagement.
  • Mismatch powered by AllSides connects students across the country in live video conversations to promote understanding across differences.
  • Generation Global connects students from across the world in dialogue through facilitated videoconferences and team blogging. Conversations are supported with engaging curriculum anchored in essential questions.


Do you have resources you can recommend to support teachers in using current and controversial issue discussions in the classroom? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare Illinois students for college, career and civic life.

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