I recently listened to a podcast by a teacher named Larry Ferlazzo. The title of his podcast was, “Teaching What Matters Most: Discussing the Elephant in the Classroom.” Throughout my research so far, I have not come across Ferlazzo’s name, so I was interested in what he had to say about controversial issues. I must admit, after creating my own podcast, I have become much more likely to listen to podcasts now than I did in the past. I really like the conversational nature, and have enjoyed listening to them.
In this particular podcast, Ferlazzo interviews three teachers about their opinions regarding teaching controversial issues into class. The teachers were all in agreement that controversial issues should be added to the curriculum. Ferlazzo states at the onset of the podcast that the discussion of such issues is similar to the cat in the Mark Twain story who didn’t want to touch a hot stove, and also didn’t want to touch a cold stove, either. He likens this story to the teacher who is overly wary about doing something out of the “norm” in the classroom setting.
The topics Ferlazzo suggests can be controversial are those surrounding, race, politics, and social justice. Many of these topics, he admits, are ignored by teachers because teachers don’t want to put their careers in jeopardy.
The first teacher interviewed, Lorena German, shared how she prepared students for classroom discussions surrounding controversial issues. German states it is essential to prepare students prior to the unit. By spending time with the preparation piece, students gain confidence, and then are more likely to share with the class. Based on my own classroom experience, I can completely relate to the strength of this particular instructional strategy. When teaching students about the Holocaust, I was able to hold genuine classroom discussions with students about the atrocities committed by Adolf Hitler. These conversations, however, would not have been possible without the prior background information. We then were also able to discuss Holocaust deniers. Students were able to make their own judgements based on the information and sources that had been presented in class.
In addition to preparing students in advance, German referred to the physical layout of the classroom and how important the room set-up was in having a deep conversation with students. I often felt that sitting in a circle, along with the students, assisted in this process. The idea that I was physically at the same level as the students made a difference.
The second teacher, Adeyemi Stembridge, mentioned how she handled controversial issues in the elementary classroom. The example she provided was the NFL players who were not respectfully standing for the National Anthem. Stembridge maintained that students need time to research a particular issue. She utilizes this time to discuss valid and reputable sources . These opportunities, she said, are imperative and “great experiences for students”.
The final teacher interview, Steve Lazar, really hit home with my personal beliefs. He said, if we don’t share with students what is really happening in the world, teachers and education in general comes off as frauds. He argued teachers should not ignore or avoid controversial topics in school. When I reflect on his statement, I think back to the book, Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Lowen. (If you are unfamiliar with this book, visit: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzTOX1xo8sgpN2JmYWRjOGEtYjhlMS00NzMwLTljNWEtNTdiZTJkMDZlYWRh/edit) It is the entire 318-page book- free.
Are we lying to our students by leaving out important pieces of history because they make us feel uncomfortable? When you reflect on your high school history class, do you ever feel cheated that you weren’t taught the entire truth about certain historical topics?
Larry Ferlazzo concluded the podcast by providing an interesting way of teaching students to handle controversial issues in the classroom. Lazar suggests that anytime a controversial issue is going to get brought into class, to invite another teacher into the classroom and have the students assign the teachers a side. The teachers, then, would take sides and argue their points, stressing how to make an argument. The idea is to teach students that it is not about who is right, but how to respectfully argue and disagree with others.
Overall, I really enjoyed this podcast, and will definitely add Steve Lazar as someone I should research further.
Thanks for reading!
Ferlazzo, L. (Producer) (2017, May 29). Teaching what matters most: Discussing the elephant in the classroom [Audio podcast]. rRtrieved from https://www.bamradionetwork.com/classroom-q-and-a/4110-teaching-what-matters-most-discussing-the-elephant-in-the-classroom