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Unit 8 Civics Connection: Civil Discourse and Contentious Issues

65 min
  • Review the application of constitutional principles and civic virtues by applying them to the context of modern controversies
  • Practice the development of civil discourse by practicing listening to multiple sides of an argument

  1. Have students use Handout B to define the term civil discourse in their own words and explain why they think it is important. If needed, give students Handout A as a guide. After everyone has come up with a definition, have them share in small groups and reach a consensus on a definition before presenting their findings to the class. Be sure to guide students to acknowledge the importance of diversity of thought and discussion.
  2. Guide the class to list on the board some of the important controversies related to Unit 8 content. Some examples of controversies from this chapter include:
    • Security and liberty during the War on Terror
    • The invasion of Iraq
    • Affirmative action
  3. Lead your class in narrowing down the controversies and circle students’ two or three favorite topics. Leave all the controversies listed on the board for later reference. Divide your class into groups of four or five and assign at least two of the groups to work on each of the circled controversies. The table shows how a class of 20-30 with three controversies should be broken down.
Controversy Groups
Controversy 1 Controversy 2 Controversy 3
A (4-5 students) (4-5 students) (4-5 students)
B (4-5 students) (4-5 students) (4-5 students)

Write the following Controversy Framework Statement on the board for reference throughout the lesson. Be sure to encourage students to avoid generic responses that are not concrete or actionable when filling out the third blank. Handout B features an example of a Controversy Framework Statement.

  • If we focus on the principle of _____________ and apply the virtue of ______________, one way to develop civil discourse regarding the controversy is ______________

Give each group copies of Handout A for reference but be sure to note that students can come up with their own constitutional principles or virtues that are not listed.

Each group should identify at least two constitutional principles that are relevant to the controversy and fill in the blanks in the Controversy Framework Statement for each principle. This will result in several pathways suggested for each controversy. Each group should write each of their Controversy Framework Statements on a different sheet of chart paper to be displayed around the room. Students also should fill in Handout B with their statement.

Have group 1A report one of its Controversy Framework Statements.

Have group 1B report one of its Controversy Framework Statements, but it must be a different principle and solution than 1A reported on.

Continue in the same manner until students have reported two different approaches for each of the three controversies (or however many your class chose). Allow students to walk around the room to see all the different pathways on the chart paper.

Have the class select one of the controversies to address in a whole-class discussion. Have students consider the solutions presented for the specific controversy the class selected and analyze those approaches using one or more of the following prompts:

  • This approach demonstrates reflection and choice because…
  • This approach honors unity and diversity because…
  • This approach protects both liberty and equality because…
  • This approach pursues liberty and justice for all because…

Discuss the following questions with the class:

  1. Of the list we created at the beginning, which other controversies that were not discussed would be interesting to think through in this manner?
  2. Was this process helpful to think through diverse viewpoints on controversial topics? Explain.
  3. How can a framework that starts with principles and virtues help reasonable people discuss these controversies constructively?
  4. What can you do on a personal level to contribute to a culture that values listening, diversity of thought, and civil discourse?

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