Exploring Controversial Issues in the Primary Social Studies Classroom, pp. 7 of 12

By the second lesson into this section of the unit, students had evidently taken on a negative view of King Sik III. They described him as “intolerant”, having a “split personality” and even compared him to “Kim Jong Un.” In comparison, many students felt “sorry” for Andrew for having to be “forcefully drafted” so early into a specialised job at the age of five. To challenge students’ assumptions, both Ms. Angsana and Ms. Mimosa invented new story characters, such as the royal advisor to the King Sik III, Mr. Aadhi. Both teachers invited a male colleague to role-play as Mr. Aadhi to be interviewed by students. Students heard first-hand from Mr. Aadhi that King Sik III had agonised for months before deciding that early job specialisation was a necessary evil if Sikkal, a small, vulnerable country with limited resources, were to survive. This helped re-characterise and re-humanise King Sik III in the eyes of the students. Following the dramatic contestation of students’ prior perceptions of characters, both teachers immediately facilitated a second whole-class circle dialogue discussion to debrief them.

Resolving Conflict through Problem-solving and Collective Decision-making

Tapping on their experience teaching Problem Solving (PS) in the Primary Gifted Education Social Studies curriculum, both teachers skilfully designed an activity that required students to work together to participate in creative problem-solving to design solutions to help transform Sikkal in a fairer society. Students were divided into smaller groups where they had to identify one problem in the story and create an action plan containing details of how the solution will be implemented (e.g. Why do you think this will solve the problem? Who is going to carry out the action? When will this action take place?), one possible limitation of their proposed solution, and suggestions on how they might overcome this limitation (refer to Figure 5 below). Both teachers also explicitly reminded students to only propose ethical solutions. Besides teaching students how to collaborate with one another to critically analyse their proposed solutions from multiple perspectives, this activity also made them sharply aware of the inherent problems associated with autocratic governance. Against this backdrop, many students remarked that as long as power was concentrated in the hands of the king, it would be hard to effect any meaningful policies. By the end of the lesson, most students agreed that transitioning towards a democratically elected government was the best way to forge a more equitable society.

After consolidating the solutions proposed by the different groups on the whiteboard, both teachers implemented a whole-class dialogue circle to engage students in collective decision-making. A talking piece was once again passed down, creating inclusive democratic dialogue space for every student to consider the divergent views of others and voice their own opinions. Some students shared intimate information about their families, for instance, Jasmine shared about how the lack of choice in Sikkal reminded her of the lack of choice many women in her culture today are still faced with (e.g. arranged marriages). Others questioned the feasibility of some of the solutions proposed. Once everyone had a chance to speak, Ms. Mimosa and Ms. Angsana proceeded to make adjustments to the class action plan based on the concerns and suggestions raised by students.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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