Thursday, May 17, 2012


Discussing Controversial Issues: Four Perspectives  on the Teacher's Role
by Thomas E. Kelly

   The section I want to discuss here is found on page 14 3rd paragraph under the critique section of Neutral Impartiality. In that section she brings up critiques of the neutral impartiality approach. One is that the teacher should express their view because it encourages and promotes critical thinking within the class. It explains that the teacher's influence over the class is rather small , and that students will resent a silent teacher.   I kind of disagree with that assertion. From my experience, when a teacher starts to express their view, students will tend to gravitate toward the teachers view because they are "the expert," especially if it is a teacher they like. If a student opposes the teachers view, unless they are "that vocal student," they will remain silent because they either want the teacher to like them or not jeopardize their grade.
     This happened from personal experience as a student.There was a discussion in class about healthcare, the teacher stated his view, next thing you know more people supported his view. It might not have even been a conscious decision on the students part. 
    Even if the teacher does not beat the student over the head with their belief, the simple fact that student know where the "expert authority stands" effects the discussion. Those who oppose the teacher view point are at a disadvantage because the other side now has the teacher. 
    The way I can see partiality working is if the students , as a whole, are very outgoing and confident, and mature, perhaps in a upper level college discussion. Even then there is that risk of doing more harm to a discussion than good.
    Personally, I am in the Committed Impartiality camp. The critique of resentment does not really go well with me because I tended to enjoy a teacher playing devils advocate, explaining that they will argue both sides to get us thinking. When that same teacher, from my example, played devil's advocate, it was a great discussion, he would play both sides encouraging us to think for ourselves. I had a philosophy teacher who, when answering a students objection to a philosophers view, would answer them from the philosopher's argument, even if he disagreed with the argument.
     Committed Impartiality works because it encourages the students, from both sides, to really defend their position and question why they believe what they believe and if they can defend it. Regarding the criticisms, what can improve Committed Impartiality  is if the teacher explains that they will play devil's advocate not because  they like sick and twisted discussion games, but to encourage the students to think critically.


  1. Craig, I agree and disagree with your assessment of the neutral impartiality tactic. I agree with you that there are instances when a class will take what the teacher says as fact because they are the “expert” and fail to think critically about the issue themselves. This is why planning is such an important part of classroom discussion, because I believe it is up to the teacher to scout out each class and determine if they are mature enough in their thinking to handle the teacher’s opinion as strictly that, an opinion. I believe that if the teacher knows the class can deal with it, the teacher stating their opinion can be used to jump start the discussion or even motivate students because they get a chance to argue with the teacher and not get in trouble for it.

  2. Craig, you make a persuasive case, and I think you can make that stance work for you. I agree with Alton's point about the teacher's judgment of the situation. Also, if a teacher is very careful to distinguish between fact and opinion, and makes it really clear that divergent (respectful) opinions are welcome and affirmed, he/she can model some really important discussion behavior.