The Controversy Over Controversies: A Plea for Flexibility and for “Soft‐Directive” Teaching

Educational Theory 64 (3):227-244 (2014)
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A controversy rages over the question of how should controversial topics be taught. Recent work has advanced the “epistemic criterion” as the resolution to this controversy. According to the epistemic criterion, a matter should be taught as controversial when contrary views can be entertained on the matter without the views being contrary to reason. When an issue is noncontroversial, according to the epistemic criterion, the correct position can be taught “directively,” with the teacher endorsing that position. When there is a legitimate controversy, the view should be taught “nondirectively,” with the teacher remaining neutral. In response, Bryan Warnick and Spencer Smith argue that the proponents of the epistemic criterion fail to recognize the multidimensional nature of what it means to learn to be rational. Recognizing this complexity undermines the link between the epistemic status of the controversy and directiveness of one's teaching, suggesting more flexibility in how teachers approach controversial issues. It also implies the need for a new category of teaching, which Warnick and Smith call “soft-directive” teaching



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