Research Stories

Teaching in Complex Times

In our latest podcast, frank talk about ethical dilemmas and civic controversies in the classroom

Usable Knowledge
March 31, 2017
Teaching in Complex Times

One student was bullied because her parents were supporters of candidate Trump. Another student expressed strong and divisive anti-immigration views in a class with several immigrant students. A group of teachers differed over whether a proposed Muslim registry was ripe for debate at school — or was just wrong, too far outside the bounds.

These are the kinds of problems — murky, time-sensitive, and without clear roadmaps — that educators, school leaders, and parents know well, says Professor Meira Levinson, a former teacher who now studies ethical dilemmas in the classroom. In a frank conversation recorded for the Harvard EdCast, Levinson and two fellow researchers, doctoral candidates Laura Burgos and Jacob Fay, describe the complexities teachers routinely navigate, often alone, and especially in today's divisive political and cultural climate.

To encourage a shared conversation about these tricky moments, Levinson and her team have developed three case studies — responding to contemporary scenarios — for teachers, school leaders, and parents. The cases center on three questions: whether and how to accommodate divisive but politically endorsed speech, how to handle student protests in politically complex times, and how to manage controversy and critical thinking in your classroom. As they explore the nuances, educators and parents can also explore their own ethical responses and obligations.

Listen to the conversation, and download the resources below. 

Download the Case Studies

Additional Resources

  • Read more about the kinds of ethical dilemmas teachers have grappled with — about free speech, empathy and perspective-taking, and the role of public schools.
  • Read more about Justice in Schools, Levinson’s project to increase awareness of ethical dilemmas and to develop a deeper understanding of ethics in education.

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Usable Knowledge is a trusted source of insight into what works in education — translating new research into easy-to-use stories and strategies for teachers, parents, K-12 leaders, higher ed professionals, and policymakers. Usable Knowledge is produced at the Harvard Graduate School of Education by Bari Walsh (senior editor) and Leah Shafer (staff writer). Contact us at uknow@gse.harvard.edu.