Arts and Culture

The 2017 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Education goes to a pair of University of Wisconsin researchers.

Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy are being honored for their study on the discussion of controversial political issues in high school classrooms. They found that teacher-led discussions of topics such as immigration, gun control and abortion should be encouraged and help students become more politically engaged adults.

I spoke with Hess and McAvoy about their work. Listen to our conversation in the audio player above.

Hess on the idea behind their four-year study:

“We were interested in how teachers include discussions of highly controversial political issues in the courses they teach and what students learn from those courses, compared to courses that had similar content but students aren’t having the discussions of controversial issues.

“So we studied students while they were in their classrooms and then we followed them two and four years out after high school to get a sense of what effect those discussions had on their actual political and civil participation.”

McAvoy on student engagement in the process:

“One of the major findings of the book are that when teachers are able to do these discussions well, students become more interested in politics, more interested in talking about politics outside of the classroom and more interested in following the news.”

Hess on what they learned from their research:

“We were astonished by how much students were learning from these discussions and how much they appreciated what they had learned when they reflected back on what had happened to them in high school. So we came away big fans of having these discussions. That being said, they’re challenging. And they’re especially challenging in times like now when there’s a high degree of political polarization.”

More information about the 2017 Grawemeyer Awards can be found here

Featured image: Paula McAvoy (left) and Diana Hess

Rick Howlett is host of WFPL's weekly talk show, "In Conversation."