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Teaching controversial issues

Margaret Roberts gives the 2013 Rex Walford Memorial Lecture at the Geographical Association's Annual Conference in Derby.


'Geography is inherently values laden' (Roberts 2013).


‘To my mind, teachers do no service to their pupils if they give them the impression that such problems [development in towns, areas of unemployment, pollution] are easily defined, that the processes involved are well understood so that their occurrence can be straightforwardly explained and that there are always practicable solutions available. Issues such as the ones I have mentioned are matters of legitimate dispute precisely because there are often strong disagreements about diagnoses, goals and strategies’ (Keith Joseph 1985 - from the lecture slides).


"For young people the world can seem difficult to handle both at a personal and a global level, but they should not be sheltered from difficult issues – it is important for them to clarify their emotions and values and learn to think for themselves. The importance for young people of developing high levels of self-esteem to help them personally and academically is well documented. Self-esteem, central to Education for Global Citizenship, is a pre-requisite for debating wider global issues if they are to handle disagreement and acknowledge other people’s viewpoints. Additionally, using controversial issues helps young people to develop a number of skills, including enquiry, critical thinking and analytical skills. Using activities like those suggested later enables young people to learn to make reasoned judgements, respect the opinions of others, weigh up different viewpoints, participate actively in arguments and debates, and resolve conflicts" (Oxfam 2006


"Everything said in this session was likely to be controversial. People have different ideas about what controversial issues are, what the role of the teacher should be in learning about them, and what classroom activities will help students investigate them. In this lecture Margaret illustrated her views through the example of climate change" (Source:


Download Margaret's lecture slides here is a database that teachers can use to engage their students in controversies of globalisation and (un)ethical trade. Soon, we will be adding to our site more ways and means to do this.


See how teachers are already using the site on our 'classroom' page, here


Legoing (including minifigures of Margaret Roberts, Dame Ellen MacArthur and David Lambert) by Eeva Kemppainen.


PS Margaret is wearing a medal here because, at the conference, she was awarded Honorary Membership of the GA (see


PS2 In December 2013, this photograph won an award. See

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Taken on May 1, 2013