Abstract 3- Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 2006

Social Studies Research and Practice

Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 2006



Social Studies Teachers’ Views on Committed Impartiality and Discussion

Jonathan Miller-Lane
Elissa Denton
Andrew May

Middlebury College


Nearly twenty years ago, Kelly (1986) forcefully argued that teachers had a responsibility to disclose their positions on controversial issues during discussion. Yet, while thoroughly grounded in theory, Kelly did not include classroom teachers responses in his call for teacher disclosure. This paper reports the responses to Kellys call for teacher disclosure from twelve secondary (grades 7-12) social studies teachers in a rural county located in a northeastern state. Analysis of interview transcripts revealed that teachers generally rejected disclosure of their position in favor of the role of an impartial facilitator for two primary reasons. First, teachers felt there was no guarantee that the tolerant environment they were trying to create in their classrooms would be present in the larger community. As a result, nine of the twelve teachers, in fear of a community backlash, rejected disclosure. Second, teachers preferred to disclose their commitment to a set of transcendent values such as tolerance, justice, and equality rather than disclose a point of view on a controversial issue. Fostering such values was seen by the teachers in this study to be more important than disclosure and could better be done by assuming the stance of neutral impartiality despite the acknowledgment that the stance was problematic. Implications and suggestions for future research are considered.

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About the Author(s)…

Jonathan Miller-Lane is an assistant professor of education at Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT. His research examines the place of disagreement in democratic education, the body in democratic education, and teacher preparation at a liberal arts college. Contact information: jmillerl@middlebury.edu, Middlebury College.

Elissa Denton (Class of 2007) is a Geography major and education minor at Middlebury College.

Andrew May (Class of 2006) has a B.A. in history and a minor in education from Middlebury College.