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Should Marriage Equality Be Taught as Controversial Post-Obergefell v. Hodges?

by Wayne Journell - 2018

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.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 8, 2018, p. 1-28
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22278, Date Accessed: 9/23/2021 11:32:14 PM

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About the Author
  • Wayne Journell
    University of North Carolina at Greensboro
    E-mail Author
    WAYNE JOURNELL is Associate Professor and coordinator of the Secondary Teacher Education Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His research focuses on the teaching of politics and political processes in secondary education. He is a recent winner of the Exemplary Research in Social Studies Award from the National Council for the Social Studies and the Early Career Award from the College and University Faculty Assembly of the National Council for the Social Studies. He is the editor of two recently published books, Reassessing the Social Studies Curriculum: Promoting Critical Civic Engagement in a Politically Polarized, Post-9/11 World and Teaching Social Studies in an Era of Divisiveness: The Challenges of Discussing Social Issues in a Non-Partisan Way, both published in 2016 by Rowman & Littlefield. He is also the author of Teaching Politics in Secondary Education, which is set to be published in 2017 by SUNY Press. He is also the editor of Theory & Research in Social Education, which is the premier research journal in the field of social studies education.
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