National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Honors in Practice 12 (2016), pp 123-137


© Copyright 2016 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


Discussing controversy is an important practice for living in a democracy. If we want to live in a pluralist society, then we have to accept differences and be able to talk in light of them. In addition to examining opinions they do not hold, honors students, perhaps more than most other undergraduates, face the possibility of disagreeing with faculty and each other in the safe and controlled environment of the seminar classroom. Since respectful disagreement is not usually modeled in TV shows or the news media, it becomes morally imperative for us as honors teachers to practice it with our students who will be leaders in and outside of academe. Using controversy to teach critical thinking in honors classrooms accomplishes two important pedagogical goals: it helps our students who already have at least a rudimentary awareness of the utility of research learn to research differences (avoiding the availability heuristic) and to accept that sometimes good reasons exist for holding differing opinions on a topic. Teaching them such skills forces them to employ higher-order thinking not only in an honors class but beyond the classroom in their lives as twenty-first-century citizens of the most powerful and influential nation in the world.