Social Studies

Teaching the Art of Conversation During a Divisive Election Year

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — September 27, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It’s often tough for teachers to figure out how to talk about political issues or current events in class. During a divisive election year, it’s even more difficult.

The news site and the nonprofit Living Room Conversations recently released a set of lessons aimed at helping teachers navigate those conversations as part of a program called AllSides for Schools. It’s called “Elections and Relationships,” and the goal is to teach young people in grades 8-12 how to examine controversial topics from all sides and discuss them civilly, even when they disagree.

The heads of the organizations that created “Elections and Relationships” point out that their partnership models the kind of discourse they’d like to see in classrooms. John Gable, the founder of, and Joan Blades, Living Room Conversations’ founder, have different political views—Blades identifies as a progressive, while Gable is more conservative.

But both were focused on what they saw as a significant problem in society: The lack of conversation and understanding among people with different points of view.

“What we learned is that you need both,” Gable said. “If you don’t hear the other point of view, you can’t really go anywhere. And if you don’t understand the other person as a human being, you won’t listen to them and respect them.”

Gable said teachers began using to identify bias in news coverage before the company began developing a specific program for schools.’s focus is on presenting unbiased information and illuminating bias in media. Living Room Conversations focuses on building relationships as a foundation for productive debate.

The program starts with a lesson called “Relationships Matter,” focused on respecting others even when you disagree. Students ask each other questions about their backgrounds and share experiences about being in contentious conversations. It also includes a series of lessons about specific topics like trade and economic inequality, which are paired with materials from the Christian Science Monitor and links to articles that present issues from different points of view.

As the school year gets into swing and the November elections draw near, many organizations have developed programs to help teachers teach about the election: C-SPAN, iCivics, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program are among the offerings. (This Education Week story includes more on teaching about the 2016 election.) Still, a survey from Teaching Tolerance earlier this year found that some 40 percent of teachers were reluctant to teach about the election.

Photo: Students in a 9th grade U.S. government class at Valley View Middle School in Edina, Minn., work amid past campaign posters. Ackerman + Gruber for Education Week.

Related stories:

For more news and information on curriculum and instruction:

And sign up here to get alerts in your email inbox when stories are published on Curriculum Matters.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Social Studies Teachers Rally Against Laws Aimed at Limiting Classroom Discussion of Racism
Some teachers are speaking out against new legislation. But others are holding back, for fear of repercussions.
5 min read
In this Aug. 28, 2021 photo, demonstrators held a rally in Kansas City, Mo. against laws forbidding teaching critical race theory in classrooms.
Demonstrators held a rally in Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday against laws forbidding teaching critical race theory in classrooms.
Photo courtesy of SURJ-KC
Social Studies Opinion Why Do Native People Disappear From Textbooks After the 1890s?
How we teach American history has direct consequences for Native students today, writes a Navajo Technical University professor.
Joshua Ward Jeffery
5 min read
A Native American man sees a vibrant history emerging from a book.
"Tells His Story" by Brent Greenwood for Education Week
Social Studies Explainer Who Decides What History We Teach? An Explainer
Education Week breaks down how politics has long been embedded in this decision, and how new laws may affect the process.
15 min read
Image of books on history.
Social Studies Opinion Q&A Collections: Teaching Social Studies
Links to 10 years of posts with commentaries from over 100 social studies educators.
7 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."