Discussion and inquiry: A Deweyan perspective on teaching controversial issues

Veli Mikko Kauppi*, Johannes Drerup

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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There is a steady line of academic discourse around the topic of controversial issues and how to approach them in and through education. In this line of discourse, discussion is widely seen as a primary method of democratic education that is especially suitable to foster its major educational aims, such as tolerance, reciprocal respect, or political autonomy. The aim of this contribution is to show that the widespread emphasis on the educational and political value of discussions as a way to handle controversial issues in education can be problematic and one-sided. It is argued that the focus on discussions sometimes tends to be interpreted as a ‘magic bullet’ to all different sorts of controversies, without sufficient inquiry into the details that make up the controversy. This uniform solution threatens to downplay and underestimates other relevant components which are essential for the intelligent handling of controversial issues, such as practices of inquiry. Instead of questioning the political value and central educational role of discussing controversial issues tout court, the contribution points out some of the blind spots of the current debate and thereby aims to broaden the spectrum of theoretical and practical perspectives on how to approach controversial issues in education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-234
Number of pages22
JournalTheory and Research in Education
Issue number3
Early online date26 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Kauppi’s work on this article has been supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • Controversial issues
  • democratic education
  • discussion
  • inquiry
  • John Dewey


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