UNCG Campus Weekly

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Wayne Journell’s award-winning book: taking on tough political topics in class

Photo of Wayne Journell Dr. Wayne Journell (Teacher Education and Higher Education) will receive the 2018 Exemplary Research in Social Studies Award from the National Council for the Social Studies at their annual conference in November.

This award, which is the most prestigious research award given in the field of social studies education, is for the 2017 book “Teaching Politics in Secondary Education: Engaging with Contentious Issues” published through SUNY Press.

This is his second time receiving this award; he also received it in 2014.

Journell’s award-winning 2017 book uses data collected from multiple studies to offer recommendations on best practices for overcoming the apprehension many teachers feel about discussing potentially volatile topics in the classroom. In the book, Journell provides insight on how to address concerns like framing divisive political issues, whether teachers should share their personal beliefs to students and how to handle political topics that reach into socially sensitive territories like race, gender and religion.

Journell, whose research is focused on preparing high school social studies teachers, has long examined how teachers can overcome fears of discussing politics with their students. He’s studied the different ways politics is taught in schools and worked with teachers to figure out creative ways to get students more engaged with civics and government, including using the television series “The West Wing” to dramatize important concepts and prompt discussion.

“We’re living in a period of heightened political awareness,” Journell said. “Many social studies teachers naturally want to engage their students in these conversations, but they may be afraid to do so due to the polarized political environment in which we live. I think teachers are constantly looking for a roadmap for how to engage students in these difficult, and often contentious, discussions.”

Drawing on extensive research and his own personal experience as a high school government teacher, Journell hopes to educate educators on how to facilitate tolerant, civil discussion of political issues.

“At some point, if we value such discussions as a society, we’ve got to see a model of it somewhere,” said Journell. “Schools are a great place, because — even in the most homogenous schools — you have more ideological diversity than most students have at their family dinner tables, circle of friends or their places of worship.”

Some of this article appeared in UNCG Magazine in a feature written by Mark Tosczak. Victor Ayala is additional writer.