Background: Having students engage with controversial issues is considered a hallmark of a quality civic education, in part because it requires students to interact with perspectives that contradict their existing worldviews, evaluate the legitimacy of positions based on evidence, and develop the skills and dispositions necessary for participation in an increasingly pluralistic democratic society. Most of the research on the teaching of controversial issues, however, has focused on how teachers and students respond to controversy as opposed to how controversy is framed. Teachers must determine whether an issue should be considered “open,” or controversial, or “settled,” or noncontroversial, in their classrooms, a decision that is both pedagogically important and often controversial. For issues that have been settled for some time, such as slavery or woman suffrage, the decision whether to frame them as open or settled is typically easy for teachers; however, issues that are in the process of tipping from open to settled, or vice versa, are more challenging and require that teachers make instructional decisions based on evidence and logical reasoning.
Purpose: The purpose of this article is to critically analyze whether the issue of marriage equality should be framed as controversial in the aftermath of the 2015 landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. In doing so, this article also offers several implications for the teaching of controversial issues broadly, particularly those that intersect with the identities of students and teachers.
Research Design: This article makes an analytical/theoretical argument using three commonly cited criteria for determining the openness of controversial issues: the epistemic criterion, the political criterion, and the politically authentic criterion.
Conclusions/Recommendations: After evaluating marriage equality using each criterion, I conclude that no rational reason exists for treating marriage quality as an open issue post-Obergefell. I also argue that the issue of marriage equality illustrates the need for teachers to be cognizant of how discussions of controversial issues that implicate students’ identities may impact students who may be marginalized by those issues. I recommend that when such issues have reached the point where subjective decisions must be made in determining whether they are framed as open or settled, deference should be made to framing those issues in a way that promotes public values as opposed to legitimizing private views.