Many educators are seeking strategies for helping their students think more deeply, critically and broadly about the challenging issues of our times, and ProCon.org is a great tool to help spark critical thinking about controversial issues. ProCon offers “research on controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan, and primarily pro-con format.”
The organization provides pro-con information on more than 30 issues, from gay marriage to obesity to “illegal” immigration to alternative energy. Each meta-issue begins with a question, offers a 1-minute overview, a core question (with quotes from opposing sides), the top 10 pros and cons for that topic, and a list of “Did you know?” factoids. Each meta-issue is broken down into sub-categories, with a variety of questions about topics connected to the meta-issue. Each meta-issue also offers (on the sidebar) a whole slew of additional information, from surveys and charts to sources for additional information. Some of the newer topics include video clips.
One of the strengths of the site is their star rating of the different types of sources. Government information gets more stars than non-profit organizations or industry sources, for example. The site also offers resources and tips for teachers and librarians in using the information on the site in their classrooms. If you need convincing about the benefits of exploring controversial issues in your classroom, check out their page on “Benefits of Teaching Controversial Issues” with statistics and links to studies and other resources.
A terrific extension to the either/or lens of the site is to explore third-side and both/and thinking with your students. Most pro-con sources set the issue up as two sides opposing each other, without looking for common ground or the reasoning behind why the stakeholders hold the views they have. If you need support or ideas for how to extend the conversation this way, check out our activities such as Many Colors (pdf) or Earth Court (pdf).
ProCon is also a great tool for helping all of us, whether teachers or not, enhance our knowledge of some of the important issues of our time and to expand our understanding about the various viewpoints people hold dear.