Beyond Divisiveness: Teaching Students to Respectfully Discuss Critical Social Issues


[semester equivalent = 4.00 credits]



Stacey Shaw



In an era of social polarization and political gridlock we need to offer students the skills to respectfully tackle critical, contemporary issues. Finding common ground instead of differences forms the foundations of citizenship based on equality and shared sense of belonging. Our text, Teaching Social Studies in an Era of Divisiveness: The Challenge of Discussing Social Issues in a Non-Partisan Way, grapples with conflicting views of unresolved social issues—such as gun control, marriage equality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and immigration. Secondary social studies and language arts educators taking this course will be encouraged to engage their students in issue research, dialogue, and the opportunity to examine a subject from varying points of view. This course is 6-12 teachers.
Text on Amazon is approximately $26 new.

LEARNING OUTCOMES: Upon completion of this course, participants will have:

  • Understand the unique issues involved in civics education in the present political climate
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship
  • Demonstrate understanding of a variety of approaches to educating about issues in social studies/civics classes
  • Demonstrate understanding of differing points of view in society at large and in the classroom regarding current social issues
  • Evaluate their own use and understanding of instruction and discussion techniques that promote tolerance and understanding of differing viewpoints

Completion of all specified assignments is required for issuance of hours or credit. The Heritage Institute does not award partial credit.

Completing the basic assignments (Section A. Information Acquisition) for this course automatically earns participant’s their choice of CEUs (Continuing Education Units), or Washington State Clock Hours or Oregon PDUs. The Heritage Institute offers CEUs and is an approved provider of Washington State Clock Hours and Oregon PDUs.



Continuing Education Quarter credits are awarded by Antioch University Seattle (AUS). AUS requires 75% or better for credit at the 400 level and 85% or better to issue credit at the 500 level. These criteria refer both to the amount and quality of work submitted.

  1. Completion of Information Acquisition assignments 30%
  2. Completion of Learning Application assignments 40%
  3. Completion of Integration Paper assignment 30%


CREDIT/NO CREDIT (No Letter Grades or Numeric Equivalents on Transcripts)
Antioch University Seattle (AUS) Continuing Education Quarter credit is offered on a Credit/No Credit basis; neither letter grades nor numeric equivalents are on a transcript. 400 level credit is equal to a "C" or better, 500 level credit is equal to a "B" or better. This information is on the back of the transcript.

AUS Continuing Education quarter credits may or may not be accepted into degree programs. Prior to registering determine with your district personnel, department head or state education office the acceptability of these credits for your purpose.



Teaching Social Studies in an Era of Divisiveness: The Challenges of Discussing Social Issues in a Non-Partisan Way by Wayne Journell

None. All reading is online.


Text, Teaching Social Studies in an Era of Divisiveness: The Challenges of Discussing Social Issues in a Non-Partisan Way, is approximately $26 at



Assignments done in a course forum will show responses from all educators active in the course. Feel free to read and respond to others comments. 

Assignment #1:

Introduce yourself in a two page paper (single spaced). Include your background, experience in education, and reasons for taking this course. 

Assignment #2:

Read the Forward (vii- xi) by Cinthia Salinas and the Introduction (p. 1-12). In a 2 - 3 page essay, describe three or four reasons that both Salinas and Journell give for the need for social studies teachers to lead discussion on controversial issues in the classroom. Include your opinion on these reasons and any relevant examples from your own experience that may support your opinions. 

Assignment #3:

Read Chapter 1 (p. 13 - 30). On page 20 and 21, Journell discusses the use of Children's Literature as a basis for raising questions about social issues for children to ponder. Choose one children's book (K-8) to use for this assignment.  Write a brief summary of the book and create ten inquiry questions that will encourage elementary age or middle school age students to discuss a social issue.

Assignment #4:

Read Chapters 2 and 3 (p. 31- 62). Write a brief summary of Teaching Method 1 and Teaching Method 2, described on pages 53 to 58, addressing the topic of Immigration. Which method would you be most comfortable using in the classroom and why would you choose it? What age range would be most appropriate for each method? How would you use the method, specifically, in your teaching? This should be a 2 to 3 page response paper. 

Assignment #5:

Review the following three discussion formats for facilitating critical dialogue in a diverse group: Conversation Cafe, Cafe Conversations, and World Cafe (websites for resources follow). Once you have reviewed all three, choose one to draw from and adapt to a classroom small group discussion activity, or other applicable discussion format. Write a 1-2 page reflection on the activity and application. 

Conversation Cafe:

Facing History Cafe Conversations:

World Cafe Hosting Toolkit:

Assignment #6:

Read Chapters 4 and 5 (p. 63- 92). Write a 2 to 3 page response to either the topic of teaching about Arab Americans or about marriage equality.  How would you approach teaching about these topics at the grade level(s) that you currently teach (or have taught)? What are the standards that would be addressed in teaching the topic? What are some issues that may arise? Identify one resource in the bibliography section(s) that you could use in a lesson and outline how you would use it. 

Assignment #7:

Read Chapter 8 (p. 127- 141). Write a 2-3 page response answering these questions: Is it critical that students study and analyze the topics of social media, online presence, Big Data, surveillance laws, privacy laws and identifying credible sources online? If so, should these topics be included in Common Core standards? Why or why not? Should these topics be taught in social studies curricula? Why or why not? Explain your reasoning and cite text evidence to support your opinions. 

Assignment #8:

Read Chapter 9 (p. 143- 158).  Prepare a slideshow introducing the topic of digital citizenship and describe the five learning activities in this chapter that are intended to teach students critical thinking about democratic life online. 

Assignment #9:

Read Chapter 10 (p. 159 -174). Write a 2- 3 page response paper discussing and describing the ethical standards that may be presented with financial literacy curricula. What ethical standards would you define as imperative in education about economic systems and individual financial literacy skills? Consider defining those ethical standards and/or writing a vision statement regarding the moral and ethical aspect of financial literacy in social studies curricula.



In this section you will apply your learning to your professional situation. This course assumes that most participants are classroom teachers who have access to students. If you do not have a classroom available to you, please contact the instructor for course modifications. Assignments done in a course forum will show responses from all educators active in the course. Feel free to read and respond to others comments. 


Assignment #10:

Read Chapters 6 and 7 (p. 93-125). Plan a lesson about an important aspect of Black culture, political activities or social change movements that are not often discussed or covered in 6th through 12th grade social studies curricula. These may include musical history, gender rights movements, voting rights, protest movements, labor rights, literary history, the arts, etc., as the specifically relate to Black culture. Submit lesson plan. 

Assignment #11:

Assignment #11 -A:

        • Adapt/create a lesson reflecting what you’ve learned in this course, with appropriate discussion strategies.
        • Implement your lesson with students in your classroom.
        • Write a 250-500 word commentary on what worked well and what could be improved.
        • Include any student feedback or noteworthy student products.
        • Submit your lesson to your instructor via the lesson tab below
        • Share what you've learned with other teachers taking our courses by checking the lesson library box when you submit your lesson.
        * Use The Heritage Institute lesson template or one from your district. (
Assignment #11-B:
Use this option if you do not have a classroom available.

        • Create a lesson to reflect what you’ve learned in this course. (Do not implement it.)
        • Write a 500+ word article concerning any noteworthy success you’ve had as a teacher with one or more students.
        • Please refer to the guidelines for our blog What Works: Teaching at its Best prior to writing your article.
        • When you submit your article to your instructor, please also email a copy to Yvonne Hall THI blog curator and media specialist.
        • Indicate whether or not you are OK with having your article considered for publishing on our website.
        • Submit your article to your instructor via Response field and the modified lesson via Submit Lesson.
        • As you submit your lesson, consider sharing it with other teachers taking our courses by checking the lesson library box.

Assignment #12: (500 Level ONLY)

This subject area changes rapidly and the creation of a current resource bibliography will be necessary in order to teach relevant material in social studies. Create a bibliography of ten resources on two of the topics presented in the course text. Bibliography is not to include any of the resources already presented in the text, but rather should be new sources to draw from as you create lessons. Please offer variety of professional journal, book, article and video resources that are both credible and relevant. 1-2 pages.


Assignment #13: (Required for 400 and 500 Level)

(Please do not write this paper until you've completed all of your other assignments)

Write a 350-500 word Integration Paper answering these 5 questions:

  1. What did you learn vs. what you expected to learn from this course?
  2. What aspects of the course were most helpful and why?
  3. What further knowledge and skills in this general area do you feel you need?
  4. How, when and where will you use what you have learned?
  5. How and with what other school or community members might you share what you learned?


Please indicate by email to the instructor if you would like to receive comments on your assignments.


Stacey Shaw, Ed.D, has years of experience as a principal and instructor at the high school, middle school, and elementary school levels. She has taught all ages, from kindergarten through college, in subjects ranging from English Language Arts and Social Studies to English as a Second Language and Spanish. 

Stacey learned a second language as an adult and understands first-hand the processes involved in second language acquisition. She has a passion for language and a track record of developing highly successful ELL and Spanish literacy programs for second language learners.

Stacey received her Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College in 1992. Her undergraduate studies focused on bilingual education, Spanish language, and Latin American Studies. She received her Master of Arts in Education from Prescott College in 2003 and her Doctorate of Educational Leadership at Lewis and Clark College in 2022.


Beyond Divisiveness: Teaching Students to Respectfully Discuss Critical Social Issues

Wayne Journell, Reassessing the Social Studies Curriculum: Promoting Critical Civic Engagement in a Politically Polarized, Post-9/11 World , 2016, 152 pages, ISBN 978-1475818123

 This book, which contains chapters from many leading scholars within the field of social studies education, both assesses the ways in which the social studies curriculum has failed to live up to the promises of progressive citizenship education made in the wake of the attacks and offers practical advice for teachers who wish to encourage a critical understanding of the post-9/11 global society in which their students live.

Diana E. Hess & Paula McAvoyThe Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education (Critical Social Thought), 2015, 268 pages, ISBN 978-0415880992

Based on the findings from a large, mixed-method study about discussions of political issues within high school classrooms, The Political Classroom presents in-depth and engaging cases of teacher practice. Paying particular attention to how political polarization and social inequality affect classroom dynamics, Hess and McAvoy promote a coherent plan for providing students with a nonpartisan political education and for improving the quality of classroom deliberations.

E. Wayne Ross, The Social Studies Curriculum, Fourth Edition: Purposes, Problems, and Possibilities, 2014, 432 pages, ISBN 978-1438453163 

Completely updated, this book includes twelve new chapters on the history of the social studies; democratic social studies; citizenship education; anarchist inspired transformative social studies; patriotism; ecological democracy; Native studies; inquiry teaching; Islamophobia; capitalism and class struggle; gender, sex, sexuality, and youth experiences in school; and critical media literacy.