The Procedurally Directive Approach to Teaching Controversial Issues

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Recent articles on teaching controversial topics in schools have employed Michael Hand's distinction between "directive teaching," in which teachers attempt to persuade students of correct positions on topics that are not rationally controversial, and "nondirective teaching," in which teachers avoid persuading students on topics that are rationally controversial. However, the four methods of directive teaching discussed in the literature - explicit directive teaching, "steering," "soft-directive teaching," and "school ethos endorsement" - make rational persuasion problematic, if not self-defeating. In this essay, Maughn Rollins Gregory argues that "procedurally directive teaching" offers an alternative to such approaches because it derives from the intention to guide inquiry rather than to persuade. He demonstrates that the conceptual frameworks of perfectionism and antiperfectionism, which have been proposed for directive teaching on same-sex marriage, can instead be used to generate open questions for student inquiry, as can a third, civil rights framework. Given these considerations, Gregory maintains that pedagogical guidance on this topic should be procedurally directive rather than substantively directive. Further, the fact that legal, political, and ethics scholars disagree about which framework is more appropriate to the issue of same-sex marriage indicates that such arguments cannot be dispositive of the pedagogical issue of how to frame classroom discussions about it. Rather, students should inquire into this meta-level framing dispute for themselves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)627-648
Number of pages22
JournalEducational Theory
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2014


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