What should we teach as controversial?

Michael HandIn the latest issue of Educational Theory, 58(2), Michael Hand examines an issue that will hit close to home for everyone who teaches history: “What should we teach as controversial?”

There is an emerging consensus that to teach something as controversial is to present it as a matter on which different views are or could be held and to expound those different views as impartially as possible. This raises an important normative question that has yet to receive the attention it deserves from educational theorists: how are we to decide which topics to teach in this way? The answer suggested by Robert Dearden is that we should apply the epistemic criterion: a matter should be taught as controversial when contrary views can be held on it without those views being contrary to reason. In this essay, Michael Hand aims to defend that answer. In the first part of the article he revisits Dearden’s rather thin and unsatisfactory justification for the epistemic criterion and attempts to mend its deficiencies. In the second part, Hand examines an alternative to the epistemic criterion in the area of moral education, an alternative he labels the political criterion, and explains why he thinks we should reject it.

This piece is part of a special issue on Epistemology and Education. See the table of contents here.

About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.