Teaching Controversial Issues in a Divided Society: Learning from Northern Ireland

Alan McCully

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    AbstractThe paper draws on the author’s professional experience as teacher, curriculum developer, researcher and teacher educator working with controversial issues in the context of the Northern Irish education system during thirty years of conflict and subsequent peace-building. It argues that while teaching controversial issues in any educational context offers challenges particular difficulties are faced in a society characterised by violent divisions around national identity, ethnicity or religion. Such situations can generate deep emotional reactions in students that override their capacity to engage in rational dialogue, or cause them to avoid such discourse at all. Facilitating understanding in these conditions requires specific responses on the part of the practitioner in order to establish a conducive and trusting environment for interaction. Arising from the collective experience of three major curriculum initiatives in the field the paper identifies ten points on which to build effective practice. In the conclusion these are placed in the context of recent writing on the relationship between education and divided societies.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)38-46
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


    • Controversial Issues
    • Educational responses to conflict


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