What is controversial?

When I am introducing the controversial arguments research paper, I start with that discussion of what it means to be controversial. This is an aspect of the paper that I once thought did not have to be explained, but I have learned it does.

Since this is a controversial issue paper, I tell my students, there must be a controversy. If one side is clearly right, there is no point in making an argument. Very few people write papers about how the Americans were interventionalists in the 30s and that is why World War II got started. There are some, but not many. There’s a reason for that.

If one side is patently obvious, what’s the point of arguing? It is only when thoughtful people disagree that there is a topic suitable for a controversial issues paper. This discussion helps me avoid the students going after the least controversial things just to prove me wrong about people arguing the topic.

This is from my TYCA-SW talk on controversial issues in the classroom.

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