Fear of the unknown is a literary tool used by famous horror writers such as R.L Stein and H.P Lovecraft preying on how individuals are afraid of what they don’t know, like whether the vampire will pounce or if the main character will survive. (Ted Ed)

At schools across BC the Board of Education has set one of its focuses to embed broad perspectives into the curriculum to prevent students from fearing the unknown. The wrongs faced by “East and South Asian and aboriginal peoples in BC” are covered but many controversial topics such as politics, religion, and social protests are limited to specific elective classes. This bottleneck allows many students to go through school without exposure to some, if any, topics of debate concerning important issues of inequality, institutionalized racism, poverty, and marginalization. The result? Uninformed youth turn into uninformed adults, and the cycle continues. And while such topics are often avoided because of their polarizing nature, it is important to allow students to think critically about both sides of an argument before it becomes foreign, feared, and unknown. By establishing safe spaces for academic debate, promoting unbiased news sources, and weaving current conflicts into mainstream classes, education boards in BC will be able to further a generation of open-minded citizens and critical thinkers, a move more important than ever with many US states abolishing historical racism curriculum content.

Should controversial topics such as Palestine and Israel, politics, etc. be embedded within the curriculum?

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One of the greatest fears with political and controversial discussions in the classroom is the fear of polarization and preexisting emotional opinions. With classrooms diverse in ethnicities and viewpoints, passionate students may become combative with those on the other end of the opinion spectrum. The main solution to this is for teachers to become objective and for the discussion and debate regarding the topic to shift to an academic plane. Such a practice is evident in Mr. Catalin Ursu’s Social Justice 12 Class at Riverside Secondary, where a major unit covers “one of the world’s longest-running and most controversial topics.” According to Vox, The Israeli-Palestinian conflict stirs emotional responses from everyone who begins to research it, yet Mr. Ursu has transformed such a debate into a learning and thinking activity for students by grading them on how well they argue, factually rather than emotionally. “[the debate] encompasses various skills crucial to the success of one’s ability to argue a sensitive topic whilst keeping emotion and opinion out of the question,” said grade 11 Safa Rasheed, in, reference to how Mr. Ursu creates a space for students to understand both parts of the conflict and still be free to hold their own opinions and sides. By creating a But such evidence will become more readily available if the proper sites are promoted.

An article from Harvard Kennedy School explores the link between opinionated media and polarization. “there are hundreds of newspapers, dozens of cable TV channels, and a virtual infinity of websites with very distinct contents, broadcast TV or network radio had only a handful of channels that were highly homogeneous.” These “homogeneous” networks appeal to the majority of television consumers and deliver biased information without reference to an “other side” of debate. This causes the dangerous phenomena of polarization without opposition, the constant feeding of one argument without understanding there is another side or the possible legitimacy of the oppositional argument. A solution to this polarization can begin at early stages within school systems.

The implementation of objective and unbiased content along with an understanding that other sources may have bias is critical to understanding research and diverse thoughts. This approach to research and online media creates critical thinking students who assess the content they receive for bias and those that can form their own opinions with objective facts. Current curriculums already involve research principles and encourage students to back up their opinions but encouraging and promoting specific objective sources could lead to more knowledgeable and open-minded individuals. (BC Curriculum) Utilizing these research skills and unbiased sites, students can explore controversial subjects if they were to be embedded within core classes.

Education systems are ever-changing as they work to keep current with skills the ministry believes will be most beneficial to modern

citizens. Skills like coding are “coming for all students,” because it, “teaches logic and critical thinking needed in almost every path in life.” Similarly, infusing core classes such as English and Math with subjects of controversy would provide students with a space to reflect on current events and take an informed opinion. Having concepts such as the Palestine and Israel conflict and current events like vaccination and climate change be spoken about would give students the opportunity to form fact-based opinions on concepts while also researching other opinions. Chimamanda Adichie, award-winning novelist, speaks about how believing only a single story of a group of people or an idea leads to misunderstanding and stereotypes in her TED Talk The danger of a single story. If put into school systems and core classes this exploration of topics can offer different stories for students to view, destroying the concept of just a single story. Keeping these topics within core classes will also prevent the identified problem of students going through school without exposure to controversial topics as they are no longer confined to special classes.

Creating safe spaces for factual conversation around controversial subjects, providing impartial media, and mandating current event discussion into core classes would allow BC Board of Education to develop citizens able to see all sides to an issue and assess religions a student has never seen represented to fierce political debates, leading an era of critical analysis and open-mindedness can combat polarization and remove the fear of the unknown. “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose,” Zora Hurston writes, so when schools promote critical thought, students may just find themselves open to hearing all perspectives.

Header Image courtesy of FMB Unimore

Media Bias chart courtesy of AdFontesMedia