Student Reporting Labs (SRL) has been encouraging students to delve into controversial topics as a part of their work with us since we began in 2009. This resource provides tools for addressing controversial issues while promoting a safe and respectful environment for all students and educators to freely express themselves during these discussions. The advice included in this resource reflects years of experience navigating these conversations, SRL’s values, as well as input from SRL-connected educators who have been doing the same.
From national politics to school policy, Student Reporting Labs regularly asks students to engage with issues that can be quite controversial — even among classmates. As educators, you’re familiar with the class discussions that can arise from this. While necessary and vital to your students’ growth as journalists, these discussions have the potential to be exclusionary and hurtful to some in the room.
We welcome you to join SRL’s commitment to making sure all students and educators feel safe, respected, and free to express themselves during these discussions.
The following guidelines are especially important to keep in mind when discussing issues that relate to one’s identity such as race, gender, sexuality, religion, disability, immigration, mental health, socioeconomics and more. A topic that one student may have only just encountered could be a matter of survival for someone else in the room. Practicing empathy by acknowledging this up front can make a big difference.
Also keep in mind that, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration(SAMHSA), 2 out of 3 children report having experienced a traumatic event by age 16, so discussion of topics like racism, violence, sexual assault, military conflict, access to healthcare and others - including those you may not anticipate - will mean very different things to different students. Always give all students the option to opt out of a discussion at any point with no questions asked.
These guidelines are in no way instructions for censoring yourself or your students. With the exception of statements made out of malice or intentional prejudice, classrooms should always welcome and respect a diverse range of perspectives.
Begin by reminding students that your classroom is a community. You may want to go over your classroom’s or school’s community standards here and offer others like:
All SRL stories aim to create empathy and/or curiosity in the viewer. Class discussions should follow the same trajectory.
A set of moral principles based on standards of right and wrong, usually in terms of obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues.
Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
A group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood). It can also be a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.
A simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group; a set form or convention
The condition of having or being composed of differing elements. Especially in the context of the inclusion of people of different races, cultures, etc. in a group or organization
The act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability)
People are interested in other people. Everyone has something to celebrate and something to complain about. We like unusual stories of people who accomplish amazing feats or handle a life crisis because we can identify with them.
The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. A generally definition is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. In media-making, creators can have empathy for their subjects and the audience can empathize with the characters.
A view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
Something that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.
Civics teaches the principles—such as adherence to the social contract, consent of the governed, limited government, legitimate authority, federalism, and separation of powers—that are meant to guide official institutions such as legislatures, courts, and government agencies. (NCSS D2.Civ.7.9-12 - D2.Civ.10.9-12)
Historical understanding requires recognizing this multiplicity of points of view in the past, which makes it important to seek out a range of sources on any historical question rather than simply use those that are easiest to find. It also requires recognizing that perspectives change over time, so that historical understanding requires developing a sense of empathy with people in the past whose perspectives might be very different from those of today. (NCSS D2.His.4.9-12 - D2.His.8.9-12)
Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences. (ISTE)
Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others. (ISTE)
At its heart, chronological reasoning requires understanding processes of change and continuity over time, which means assessing similarities and differences between historical periods and between the past and present. (NCSS D2.His.1.9-12 - D2.His.3.9-12)
Stereotypes and Misconceptions