A. Why It Is Important to Teach Critical Thinking Using Controversial Issues
93% of higher education faculty believe critical thinking is an essential learning outcome.
A 2005 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities demonstrated the need for efforts to promote critical thinking by highlighting the disparity between the 93% of higher education faculty that perceive critical thinking to be an essential learning outcome and the 6% of undergraduate seniors that actually demonstrated critical thinking proficiency.
Source: Ian J. Quitadamo and Martha J. Kurts, "Learning to Improve: Using Writing to Increase Critical Thinking Performance in General Education Biology,” CBE Life Sciences Education, Feb. 2007.
Critical thinking is considered the second most important life skill after interpersonal skill.
In a 1994 survey of over 11,000 college graduates, the "ability to think critically” ranked as the second most important skill out of 16 in their daily life (#1 was interpersonal skills).
Source: Cooperative Institutional Research Program, "1994 Nine Year Follow-Up Survey (of 1985 Freshmen),” Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 1995.
Learning and discussing controversial issues in school helps students become more informed and more active citizens.
A 2007 survey of 5,400 secondary students found that: "Students who regularly take part in classroom discussion are more likely to:
Vote in later life
Support basic democratic values
Take part in political discussions
Follow political news in the media
Be interested in the political process
Have confidence in their ability to influence public policy”
Source: Keith Barton and Alan McCully, "Teaching Controversial Issues...Where Controversial Issues Really Matter," Teaching History, June 2007.
Learning about controversial topics in school increases students’ political participation.
Studies by Lee Ehman in 1966 and 1977 reveal that focusing course content on controversial topics positively affects students' attitudes toward citizen duty, political participation, and political efficacy as well as their political trust, social integration, and political interest.
Source: Lee Ehman, "Social Studies Instructional Factors Causing Change in High School Students' Sociopolitical Attitudes over a Two-Year Period,” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Apr. 1977.
Students who debate controversial issues in school are more likely to be engaged and active citizens.
In a 2002 survey of 1,166 youth aged 15-25, the following differences were found between youth who debated issues in class and those who did not:
Source: Molly Andolina, et al. "Habits from Home, Lessons from School: Influences on Youth Civic Engagement,” PS: Political Science and Politics, Apr. 2003.
Teaching controversial topics helps students develop non-violent strategies for dealing with conflict.
A 2008 case study of social studies teachers concluded that: "Teaching controversial issues allows students to question and to express their fears in the safety of the classroom, and provides opportunities to develop their social skills such as learning how to listen to one another, to deal with difficult topics, and to handle their anger and frustrations without resorting to violence. Importantly, it is not about teaching students to avoid conflict, because conflict and controversy are part of human relationships, but rather where schools provide neutral grounds for rational discourse and objective study.”
Source: P. Reitano, C. Kivunja, and K. Porter, "Teaching Controversial Issues In Schools to Prepare Children for a Sustainable Global Village," Australian Association for Research Education website, 2008
Controversial issue assignments increase critical thinking skills and appreciation of cultural diversity.
A 2003 evaluation of students given a controversial issue assignment found that:
98.25% "agreed, strongly agreed, or very strongly agreed" that "they were more sensitive to the concerns of people from diverse populations" after completion of a controversial issue assignment. 9
6.4% "agreed, strongly agreed, or very strongly agreed" that "their knowledge about a population other than their own" had increased.
94.7% "agreed, strongly agreed, or very strongly agreed" that the assignment "sharpened their critical thinking skills."
Source: Sue Steiner, Stephanie Bruzuzy, Karen Gerdes, and Donna Hurdle, "Using Structured Controversy to Teach Diversity Content and Cultural Competence," Journal of Teaching and Social Work, 2003
Studying and debating controversial topics in school helps increase student attention, motivation, achievement, creativity, and self-esteem.
A 2009 meta-analysis of studies on teaching controversial issues found that teaching the pros and cons of controversial issues in a structured conflict format can help "focus student attention," increase motivation, "produce higher levels of congitive reasoning," "produce higher levels of achievement and retention," as well as increase "levels of creativity and divergent thinking" and "students' self-esteem."
Source: David W. Johnson, Minnesota University, and Roger T. Johnson, Minnesota University, "Energizing Learning: The Instructional Power of Conflict,"Educational Researcher, Jan. 2009
B. Books, Articles, and Studies about Using Controversial Issues to Stimulate Critical Thinking
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt, 2012
A discussion of the psychology of morality and the underlying differences in perception between liberals and conservatives.
"Teaching About Controversial Issues" (50 KB) Andrea Lorek Strauss, National Information and Education Director of the International Wolf Center, and Jen Westlund, Program Director of the International Wolf Center, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website (accessed June 20, 2012)
An article about how teaching controversial issues benefits students. The article discusses effective teaching techniques for controversial issues, examples of bias, promoting thinking and discussion, and guidelines for resolving conflicts.
A study on the various approaches social studies teachers utilize for teaching controversial issues in the classroom and the ways in which controversial issue study prepares students for engaged citizenship.
A discussion of the extent to which teachers should disclose their personal views and a description of different approaches to teaching controversial issues, including: denial, avoidance, privilege, and balance.
An article on the benefits of teaching controversial issues in the classroom, an examination of disagreements over what kind of democratic particpation should be encouraged in schools, and different ways teachers respond to these challenges.
A study on critical thinking in classrooms including how teaching controversial issues in class helps students confront and resolve the dissonance of conflicting ideas.
"Classroom Conflict: Controversy Versus Debate in Learning Groups" David W. Johnson, University of Minnesota, and Roger Johnson, University of Minnesota, American Educational Research Journal, June 20, 1985
A study on controversial issue research and debate in the classroom. The results indicated that using pros and cons for classroom debate promotes "the most verbal rehearsal and exchange of the assigned material, the most concern that all students master the assigned material, the most active search for more information about the topic being studied, the most reevaluation of one’s position and the most attitude change" as well as "the most liking for the subject matter."
An article discussing the importance of teaching controversial issues in the classroom and how teachers who teach these issues in public schools can prepare for possible negative community response to the topics they cover.
C. Teachers' Comments on ProCon.org
"I love ProCon.org and have been suggesting it as a resource for the teachers with whom I work. I can't tell you what a wonderful resource you have made accessible to students and teachers. Finding really interesting and motivational informational text which is also public domain is very difficult. Your materials are perfect to connect students with important social issues." Brenda Matthews, District Literacy Specialist for Duval County (Florida), Apr. 18, 2013
"It caused them to see that controversial / ethical topics require balanced research to evaluate all streams of consciousness. It allowed 'narrow' views to be broadened in a way that is often hard to achieve in a simple google search. It also promoted pupils understanding of 'why people may not hold the same view' and the fact this is often
backed by research allows pupils to research the stance offered further...
Pupils were assigned a question regarding the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport and whether making them legal would promote a level playing field. Students were given some guidance in where to research materials that might help them formulate their argument. ProCon.org was the perfect vechile for this." James Muir, PDHPE Teacher, The Hills Grammar School (Sydney, Australia), Mar. 29, 2013
"I use it when teching the essay portion of the exam and it really helps show the students that there are multiple points of view on each topic. Also, it is extremely helpful when modeling what a sound argument looks like. We usuallly use a slightly modified version of your question and then take a position. For some students, coming up with arguments to back up their thesis is too difficult at first, and I use Procon.org as their training wheels until they can brainstorm on their own... Thank you for providing this wonderful service." Thomas Dougherty, SAT Preparation Instructor, Temple University (Philadelphia, PA), Mar. 23, 2013
"This is a great place to find articles and opposing sides. Students have a difficult time searching the internet because it is so big...like the ocean. ProCon.org simplifies the search; more like fishing in a pond." Jamie Smith, English Teacher, Homestead High School (Fort Wayne, IN), Mar. 19, 2013
"We are working on increasing our students' ability to critical think and make arguments and assertions based on text they have read. Some issues are very complex and the simplicity with how the arguments are laid out allows our students to better understand the key points. We love how the background information provided allows our students to look more deeply into a topic." Julie Hirst, Principal, Theodore Vick K-8 School (Adelanto, CA), Mar. 13, 2013
"[We used] the site several times while teaching the Local State and National Government course. For example, I use the site as a resource for students writing position papers, researching for in-class debates, drafting model legislation, mock trial activities and creating public opinion polls... thank you!" Chris Irwin, Social Studies Department Chair, Green Valley Academy (Suitland, MD), Mar. 11, 2013
"We used the website to teach the argumentative process to ourselves in a research paper unit. Students were able to use data from the website to understand the idea of argument using counter-arguments and the development of a rebuttal. It helped IMMENSELY in getting my low-level learners to buy into the argumentative process." Christy Smith, English Teacher, Northwestern High School (Rock Hill, SC), Mar. 6, 2013
"While introducing my sixth graders to writing argumentative essays, I provided them with printouts of the pro side and con side of the two topics they could choose from. The short, information-dense form of the numbered points from ProCon.org was perfect for these students who are just beginning to think in terms of facts to support their opinion. Thank you!" Bailey Gram, Student Teacher, Monroe Intermediate School (Green River, WY), Mar. 5, 2013
"I am a social studies teacher who uses your site to help students formulate arguments for student-led classroom debates on important public policy issues. Thanks for this site!" Eileen Sheehy, 2013 Montana Teacher of the Year, Billings West High School (Billings, MT), Mar. 4, 2013
"Students using ProCon.org can't help but see the opposing argument and they realize that they have to really think about why they have the opinion they do. Basically, the layout of the info makes it hard for them to ignore the other side of an issue.
I have a link to ProCon.org on my library's website. I tell students to refer to it before other websites as ProCon.org tends to have all the info they need in one place. Information is accurate so I often tell students to refer to the site even for assignments that do not include debate."
Julie Boyer, Librarian, John F. Kennedy High School (Fremont, CA), Feb. 27, 2013
"Your website is great for teaching people to critically think."
Katherine Orendorff, Business Technology Teacher, Locust Grove Middle School (Locust Grove, GA), Feb. 26, 2013
"Students study the PRO and the CON of a selected topic, choose a stance and learn to argue their point. Great preparation for college level writing, and it develops their ability to think critically.
Under the new CCCSI standards adopted in my state, Career and Technical Ed students must write a research paper. My students are in the Business Cluster. Since they do a paper in English and another in Social Studies, I like to give a list of topics that are business related. Example: Should employer benefits be mandated? Why or why not? It is hard to find good articles without spending hours on the internet: It would be nice to have more articles for a business course."
Liat Bearden, Career and Technical Education Teacher, Hilo High School (Hilo, HI), Feb. 21, 2013
"When students write argumentative essays, they need initial background to formulate an opinion. By going to ProCon.org and seeing all the pros and cons in one place, they have an easier time developing that opinion. Once students decide on their position, ProCon.org becomes a resource for finding research that supports their opinion. One of the foundations of Common Core is finding text-based evidence to support opinions. ProCon.org makes that text more feasible... Thank you for offering a wonderful resource for our teachers and students!" Melanie Park, Reading Remediation Teacher, Riverview Middle School (Huntington, IN), Feb. 21, 2013
"Your website has been enormously helpful in teaching my sixth grade students the art of argumentative writing. Once they view your videos, it is as if an enormous light bulb turns on in their brains, and the writing becomes a doable goal." Linda Cokley, Teacher at Pikeville Elementary School (Pikeville, KY), Feb. 18, 2013
"The site is an excellent source of current and relevant debatable topics and a great primer for research topics... I enjoyed using the website to help enrich my students' education and understanding of critical issues within our society."
Jose de la Cruz, English Teacher, R & T Martin High School (Laredo, TX), Feb. 4, 2013
"It is well thought out, if one does not have time to read the site, it reads the article to you. Thanks, you have an excellent resource. I will use it more now and in the future. Thanks again for sharing."
Sharon Brooks, Adjunct Professor of English and Writing, Tarrant County Community College District (Arlington, TX), Feb. 2, 2013
"Second semester for my sophomore students is all about moral/ethical issues, so your website comes in VERY handy in our discussions and presentations... Love your website and information!" Vicki Bauer, Theology Teacher, Sacred Heart Griffin High School (Springfield, IL), Jan. 27, 2013
"ProCon.org is one of the first sites I check when we begin to research motions. Your analysis often provides a wonderful jumping-off point we can use to kick-start our research." John Taylor, Teacher at Compton High School (Compton, CA), Jan. 20, 2013
"I have taught the AP English Language Synthesis for years, and have always used a wide range of topics but finding current info on some of the topics was difficult for students. I was looking for a way to give them exposure to a broad list of current topics other than just the New York Times online which I currently use. Your site was mentioned on the APE teacher discussion site and I think it will work well with the Synthesis Research project I assign to both my APE Lang and English Honors 4 classes. I am currently rewriting the instructions for this project to include ProCon.org. Thank you so much for such a wonderful site for students and teachers. I look forward to going through the other teacher components you offer." Debra S. Couch, AP Literature Teacher, Flagler Palm Coast High School (Palm Coast, FL), Jan. 20, 2013
"The more informed students are on an issue, the better they can form their own opinions. I used this website to find information on controversial topics for persuasive essay writing. Students needed to find facts, examples, and expert opinion to back up their claim. This is the perfect balance of information presented without bias." Maggie Schultz, English Teacher, West High School (Bakersfield, CA), Jan. 7, 2013
"We used the candidate summary on political platforms and what their views were regarding specific issues. It was an awesome tool and super helpful to have students use in class." Betsy Walsh, History teacher, New England Academy (Boston, MA), Aug. 30, 2012
"Keep up the great work. My husband is a librarian, and I showed him the site and he enthusiastically bookmarked it for future use when students are looking for Senior Research Project ideas. I also will mention this site to all my colleagues! Thank You for existing!" B. Beaudreau, Social Studies Teacher, Central High School (Providence, RI), Aug. 19, 2012
"Excellent non-biased resource...THANK YOU!!!!" Shari Blevins, English Teacher, Bowie High School (Austin, TX), Aug. 15, 2012
"ProCon does a good job of presenting both sides for consideration without any social commentary to dissuade reading the talking points presented on the issues you cover... Thanks for the work you put into researching and presenting these topics in the oppositional format that you do. In our conservative state of Utah, it is very hard to find fact that isn't tainted with an agenda or opinion. [ProCon.org] provides opposing viewpoints without turning the reader away with rhetoric." Matt Beaudry, Adjunct Instructor - Community Health Department, Utah Valley University (Orem, UT), July 26, 2012
"I use it constantly in my writing classes. Because the 'sides' are written so professionally, with no tone of bias, it is much easier for my students who are emotionally 'settled' in their thoughts to see beyond their views... this is ALWAYS my goal as an educator... they don't have to change their minds, but they must, if they are going to call themselves educated, be able to reason and understand each side to each issue..." Nancy Watson-Weir, English and Language Arts Teacher, Fort Zumwalt West High School (O'Fallon, MO), July 24, 2012
"I love this site for stimulating discussion groups prior to a writing exercise. It is also particularly helpful with providing students with a starting point for research papers." Karen Yanovitch, Education Specialist, Mary Campbell Center (Wilmington, DE), July 17, 2012
"ProCon.org provides succinctly worded, easily accessed points [that students] can use in preparing their persuasive paragraphs and essays... Even though the 'talking points' are supplied, they still have to think critically to fit these ideas into their own framework." Linda S. Brown, English Instructor, Church of Philippi Summer School (Hanover, MD), July 10, 2012
"The facts of each topic are so clearly presented, that students can access the unbiased background of any issue quickly... We will be holding a state-wide mock election, so the information from ProCon.org will be invaluable, as students educate themselves on the issues, so they can formulate their own opinions and take a stand." Martia Weber, Social Studies Teacher at Chaparral High School (Las Vegas, NV), July 3, 2012
"Your site is great! Thank you for keeping it free." Cindy Dietz, Librarian, Foothill High School (Santa Ana, CA), July 3, 2012
"I wouldn't be able to teach my weekly conversation course if it wasn't for ProCon. I look for specific topics that might be a little extra controversial to make sure everybody will have a say during my class." Bryan, English Teacher, May 23, 2012
"I thoroughly enjoy your site as one of the most informed sources available for scholarly involvement of students in high school; your professionalism is sorely needed in this day and age." Professor Dennis Maugere, member AHA; Leadership Council Member, SPLC; Marquis Who's Who in America 2011-2012, May 22, 2012
"ProCon is an amazing resource for English teachers! I am happy that my daughter told me about the site." Christine Kesling, English Teacher, W. Charles Akins High School (Austin, TX), Apr. 24, 2012
"Thank you so much for keeping this wonderful resource updated for us teachers who use your site!" Kim Dang, English Teacher, Foothill High School (Santa Ana, CA), Mar. 19, 2012
"In teaching to our state standard, I am expected to expose students to persuasive texts. I find having students write persuasively first, sets the stage to critique texts with scrutiny. I chose a couple grade appropriate topics (cell phones & social networking) and provided the pro/con arguments and research I found at ProCon.org. Using a fairly formulaic approach, I was able to model how to build a solid argument with support for their claim. The research from your site allowed the focus to remain on the writing and prevented my students (who are still relatively new to effective research techniques) from getting 'lost' in the research process. Now that I have found Procon.org, I will revisit the site with students in the spring when we do individualized research projects.” Marshella Maricle, Teacher Reading Specialist, Alexander Middle School (Pearland, TX), Feb. 26, 2012
"I love this site! For teachers, it's a great resource. For students, it's a great way to see both sides of the [issues]." Tom Kenny, Associate Professor of Linguistics, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies (Nagoya, Japan), Feb. 21, 2012
"My students are researching their arguments on gay marriage for a debate in class. They were more than excited to come upon your website, and they found it incredibly helpful. I'll definitely be using your site more in the future." Susanna Belanger, 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher, Santa Maria Middle School (Phoenix, AZ), Feb. 17, 2012
"My students were able to collect different views with ease. They had a wide variety of issues to select from and they had a large number of resources to look at all in one place.” Nicholas Kawalec, National Certified Board Teacher, Scott Carpenter Middle School (Denver, CO), Feb. 15, 2012
"I use ProCon to help stimulate discussion and to encourage students to become aware of the main aspects of being a good citizen." Emery Lindgren, Teacher, Kulm High School (Kulm, ND), Feb. 10, 2012
"This is a fabulous resource for teachers! I can't wait to get the laptops in class to begin more serious work! Thanks!" Diane Isaac, Social Studies Teacher, Curtis High School (Staten Island, NY), Feb. 8, 2012
"Recently I asked the students all of the questions that you put together as part of the 2012 presidential election. I then asked them to look at the summary sheet [on 2012 Election ProCon.org] to identify the candidate that most closely was in line with their belief system. Many students were very surprised at the results. It helped them look past all of the subjective journalism comments given by the media. Then I had them research the candidate and give a speech of support for the candidate. It was an excellent exercise." Paul Cryder, Teacher, Sequoia Village School (Show Low, AZ), Feb. 4, 2012
"We used to have an online database (SIRS) that our county purchased for our use in the schools. Due to budgetary constraints, we had to discontinue our use of fee based databases. We tried pro/con for our classes that do debates and it has been very helpful." Carol Papuga, Fleming Island High School (Fleming Island, FL), Jan. 27, 2012
"By offering both the pros and cons to a variety of current event issues in our world, students are able to weigh the merits of each issue...thus sharpening their critical thinking and decision-making skills... I am using ProCon.org as a basis for my impromptu speaking activity in my Public Speaking classes, as a research ancillary for argument and debate activities, and as a base for critical thinking/skill building activities!" Donnie Kirk, PhD, Professor of Communications at Vernon College, June 24, 2011
"I am a teacher at Elsik 9th Grade Center in Houston, Texas. I found out about ProCon.org through my school's former media specialist. She made it her business to keep on top of resources that students and teachers could use. We used ProCon.org as one of our required resources when we taught a unit on research. The students loved it. They read information on both sides of an argument, formed their own opinion, and used the information collected to support their argument. They were also required to present and counter an opposing argument. Throughout all this they had to make sure they documented all of their sources. This was a big project for some of our students and while not all managed to complete their final essays, they learned a lot about the research process. Some would probably say we could have done the same thing without ProCon.org, but having the website certainly made the process easier, and more enjoyable. I think the website is great and I plan to recommend it all my friends, teachers or not." Rhonda Whiting, English Teacher at Elsik 9th Grade Center (Houston, TX), June 16, 2011
"My students used the resources to prepare for end-of-the-schoolyear debates. The site is extremely user friendly and objective. I was concerned that as my students researched, they might get inundated with biased, politically motivated sites, so I was was happy to come across pro/con.org." Francisco Ceja, Instructor at Roosevelt High School (Los Angeles, CA), June 6, 2011
"I had students brainstorm the pros and cons of marijuana, drinking age, social net working, and gay marriage (in different units) using a 'T' chart in a group setting prior to our discussion on the topics. After they created their chart, they had to compare it to yours and see if there were areas they were missing or hadn't delved into yet. Each time they used this process they got better at managing it!...
Your customer service is wonderful! I had a concern about the pro/con section of abortion and was not only listened to, changes were made and I was notified about the changes. Thank you!" Lisa Dill Hanson, Health Teacher, Red Wing High School (Red Wing, MN), June 2, 2011
"Great resources and models of arguments, all in one spot... [ProCon.org] pushed them beyond simple answers and blind belief... I use it as the basis for persuasive essays and projects in a 'writing for social change' unit. Rather than have students surfing all over, finding 'facts' of questionable value, procon.org is a great place to start the discussion and begin framing the argument." J. Mailloux, English Language Arts Instructor, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School (Northampton, MA), May 23, 2011
"Keep up the great work... Any HS or CC that is NOT recommending PRO/CON to their students is missing out on a valuable information and INSTRUCTIONAL resource. Thank You." Ed Uecker, Literature and Writing Instructor at McMinnville High School and Chemeketa Community College (McMinnville, OR), Apr. 30, 2011
"I teach ESL to foreign college students. Due to cultural differences, students often do formulate their own opinions on various subjects. On more than one occasion, I have had students say they can not do an assignment because they have 'no opinion' on a subject. This site helps them to understand the issues and how effective arguments are formed." Christine Tierney, English Teacher at Houston Community College (Houston, TX), Apr. 26, 2011
"My class and I worked over the pros and cons of euthanasia, discussing each point and managing to work ourselves into a deep and meaningful discussion. It was enjoyable for everyone and I know that they have been constantly referring to the site for updates and checking their points of discussion. Thank you Pro Con!" English Teacher, Northcote High School (Victoria, Australia), Apr. 3, 2011
"An excellent source of both sides of the Health Care debate. ProCon.org provided equal arguments in both directions that then required the students to figure out their belief for themselves, all while being informed from both angles. ProCon.Org is a great way to distribute the main ideas from two sides of an issue before discussion." Corey Wiscomb, Teacher at Orcas Island High School (Eastsound, WA), Mar. 16, 2011
"You do a wonderful job on the website and I appreciate the fact that is so WELL organized and accessible to my students." Teacher/Librarian at Lyme Central School (Chaumont, NY), Mar. 9, 2011
"I keep a link to ProCon.org bookmarked for easy access. I believe building arguments is one of the most effective exercises for developing critical thinking. I consider ProCon.org as my primary 'go-to' resource for facts and perspectives." Charles Coursey, English and Journalism Teacher, Yearbook and Newspaper Advisor at North Mesquite High School (Mesquite, TX), Mar. 2, 2011
"We use ProCon.org to debate in class. My students need to learn how to take a side on an issue and defend it with facts. ProCon is fabulous for this. I abolutely love your program. It really exemplifies the two sides to an issue. The issues are also very pertinent to the students. Thank you." Teacher at Pioneer Park Elementary School (Cheyenne, WY), Feb. 25, 2011
"Useful and neutral! Great for teaching the facts." Carrie Richards, Social Studies Teacher at Rohrerstown Education Center (Lancaster, PA), Feb. 25, 2011
"LOVE ProCon.org. It allows my students to cover multiple topics without me having to do all of the major pre-research for them. It's a great starting place. It also greatly increases their ability to look at an issue from an opposing view, to take the role of the other." Teacher at Educational Opportunity Center (Clarkston, WA), Feb. 10, 2011
"I enjoy your site immensely and have suggested it to most of my colleagues... Thank you for your work on this site. My son finished William and Mary in Law and Public Policy. He told me of your site and stated that they use it frequently. Thought you might enjoy knowing how many people you help." Teacher at Evangel Christian Academy (Montgomery, AL), Feb. 10, 2011
"I teach a research section, and ProCon.org is one of the finest sources for honest research I have found for free on the interwebs. My school has limited resources and the free site is a blessing for my challenged students. I used the issue of Cow's Milk to model research - I began with ProCon.org, and then used keywords from the material there to direct my searches using other engines available. It was highly instructive. I have used the site with 10th graders, and now with 6th grade students. I find it delightful, fair, and balanced. Other sites are pushing their agenda, and of course are a great study in persuasive speech. The difference between ProCon.org and persuasive sites is yet another lesson in critical thinking." M.L. Polson, English Teacher at R.O. Gibson Middle School (Las Vegas, NV), Feb. 10, 2011
"As an introduction to persuasive writing, the site has been very useful. Middle school students are notoriously emotional – and just getting them to see both sides of an issue can be a chore. This site is very easy to navigate, and students actually enjoyed seeing the pros and cons side by side. Critical thinking skills are still a work in progress here – so this is a fantastic tool!" English Teacher at Athena Middle School (Rochester, NY), Feb. 10, 2011
"I recommend ProCon to students to see examples of how to present contrasting arguments. Since ProCon focuses on controversial issues that are of immediate concern to individuals and society, students are always able to find a topic that is of particular interest to them. I ask them to look at how a subject is analyzed on the site, then to extrapolate the methodology and apply it to their own arguments. ProCon helps teach students not to shy away from or ignore information for fear of undermining whatever assertion they are trying to prove, but rather how to use opposing arguments to strengthen one's stance on a given topic." Francesca Marx, Teaching Fellow (English) at University of California at Los Angeles, Feb. 7, 2011
"I am trying to teach students to think logically as well as critically, and to write essays with evidence and analysis of the evidence. So, we work with one controversial issue after another, trying to maintain students' interest while practicing their skills. Procon.org provides all the 'fuel' I need for this work. Thank you so much for creating this extremely valuable resource!" Social Studies Teacher at Youth Connection Leadership Academy (Chicago, IL), Feb. 5, 2011
"I use [ProCon.org] as an example of Pro/Con issues. I show my students how there is evidence for both sides of a given issue and that they need to use credible sources for their arguments. It has been helpful for them to see how both sides of a given issue can have excellent support." Michelle Wolff, English Teacher at L'Anse Creuse High School (Harrison Township, MI), Oct. 22, 2010
"[ProCon.org's] straightforward written entries can give you the background information you need to understand the issue and start researching more in-depth." John Warren, Library Assistant at University of Southern Maine, Oct. 7, 2010
"Whenever we have a persuasive speech or research paper, I always recommend this site to students and teachers." Michelle Houser, Library Media Specialist at Bellmont High School (Decatur, IN), Sep. 16, 2010
"We have it [ProCon.org] listed in our handout/research guide on Sources for Current/Controversial Topics. I also demonstrate it during library instructional sessions. Students love it since the address is easy to remember and because pro/cons are easy to find and identify... I love this site and am happy to recommend it to students, faculty, and colleagues!" Shelly Blackman, Reference, Instruction, and Collection Development Librarian at Evergreen Valley College, July 20, 2010
"ProCon.org is an incredibly practical and effective web site for teaching and learning. The well-researched pro/con issues provide much non-biased information for students and staff researching contemporary topics. The topic selections are worthwhile and of much value for research papers, class discussions and debates. I recommended this web site while teaching grad courses at Pratt Institute’s SILS (School of Information & Library Science).
The ProCon.org web site is a unique resource that will enhance critical thinking and student inquiry through analysis of issues." Harriet Selverstone, Past President American Association of School Librarians, July 15, 2010
"I recently saw that ProCon.org has begun soliciting private donations to maintain its operations and wanted to express my thoughts about this phenomenal site. I hope that this website and program continue to operate as I intend to continue to make use of this valuable resource. I am struck by how useful this site is. I appreciate the accuracy of information provided, its ease of navigation, the number of issues debated and range of perspectives explored pertaining to those issues for debate. Its capacity to provoke critical thinking and reflection has been clearly demonstrated through my students work this past academic year." Matt Aber, Social Studies Teacher at North Olmsted High School (North Olmsted, OH), July 3, 2010
"I've browsed your website, and I'm impressed by the abundance and quality of your materials for teachers. Though I've retired from teaching, I remain affiliated with North Shore Community College as the chair of the board of trustees, and I still run workshops on critical thinking for fellow teachers. I'll be sure to mention your site as an excellent resource." John Nelson, Professor Emeritus, North Shore Community College, June 14, 2010
"Our school recently had to drop use of a similar paid program due to budget constraints. Their cost was $2000 per year. Needless to say, my debate students and I were frantic, until we discovered the ProCon.org site. Your service has saved our debate group! Thank you." Kaywin Cottle, English and Debate Teacher at Preston High School (Preston, ID), May 24, 2010
"Thank you for frequently updating the site, and keeping it relevant to the lives of my students. I rely on the site regularly.” Courtney Bradley, Social Studies Teacher at Wethersfield High School (Wethersford, CT), May 23, 2010
"Excellent website. I'm building more activities into my classes using ProCon.org." James C. Funk, Esq., Professor of Business Technologies at Marion Technical College, Mar. 15, 2010
"Procon.org is extremely instrumental in helping the students frame their arguments… This site is extremely useful and very beneficial in the development of lesson plans.” Trenton Stinson, Headmaster at Southside Baptist Christian School, May 14, 2010
"ProCon is totally great! I've already passed it on to other teachers in the district. Thank you.” Richard L. Helder, English and History Teacher at Crossroads, May 5, 2010
"ProCon.org has lots of potential for my teaching requirements: Middle East History, US History, Senior Project Research. I found materials to be high level, well-organized and thought provoking. Thank you!” History Teacher at Walworth Barbour American International School (Evan Yehuda, Israel), Apr. 20, 2010
"We appreciate it when issues are presented in a way that they reach beyond borders. Thank you and keep up the great work.” Arthur Klatt, Social Studies Teacher at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Thuwal, Saudi Arabia), Apr. 16, 2010
"Love the site and recommend it wholeheartedly. The pro-con format allows students to assess and weigh both sides of an issue, encouraging them to draw their own conclusions while at the same time illustrating that there are no easy answers.” T. Braunstein, English Teacher at Leibniz Gymnasium (Dortmund, Germany), Apr. 13, 2010
"Great sources! Wonderful quotes! Your site is very helpful in helping students become better critical thinkers and speakers.” Harriet Baker, Language Arts Department Chair at Riverwood Middle School, Apr. 11, 2010
"You have a very well-constructed and impressive site that includes a wealth of information on current/relevant topics. Keep up the good work and continue expanding the range of topics.” Joseph E. Eglesia, English Teacher at Mansfield Jr./Sr. High School, Feb. 24, 2010
"Thanks for a wonderful resource and for supporting critical thinking in all areas of life!” Katie Kneisley, English Department Chairperson at Garrard County High School, Jan. 15, 2010
"Excellent range of topics; extremely broad range of research to offer the wide range of views.” English Instructor at Foreign Military School (Seongnam, South Korea), Jan. 15, 2010
"Great site with superb research on both sides. Just what I need for my debate simulations.” Paula Jones, Civics/Government Teacher at Miles River Middle School, Jan. 3, 2010
"Thank you very much for your wonderful and illuminating website. It allows me to do more of what I love - which is to teach, train and cajole learners. Your website allows me the resources to do that. God bless and thanks a million.” Rajoo Samy, English Department Head at Jiang Education Centre (Singapore), Nov. 29, 2009
"This is a very practical and necessary site for educators.” Julia Desalernos, Librarian and Media Teacher at West Middle School, Nov. 16, 2009
"This is one of the best free sites available, and I recommend it highly to anyone who needs it.” Kathy Starks, Library Media Specialist at Owego Free Academy, Oct. 1, 2009
"Great topic [Right to the Health Care] and a must issue for people to understand. I am a high school teacher and I am using this in my upper level sociology course. We need more issues like this for our young people to understand more deeply. Keep up the good work!” Rita Jordan-Keller, Ridley High School, Sep. 26, 2009
"I really appreciate your approach to getting this and all information out in the manner you do. I am a teacher and use your site as a valuable resource. I even post links to your site to colleagues on hot issues, like this one. It is rare (and refreshing) to find information that is not over-burdened with intense bias and rhetoric.” Disa, Sep. 23, 2009
"I teach at a Department of Defense School, serving military students overseas. I find ProCon.org to be an essential and invaluable resource. In Advanced Placement English Language and Composition, ProCon.org helps students gain a greater understanding and wider perspective on issues important to us all. By citing research from credible sources, students are able to develop their own informed argument. It has been an invaluable starting point for recognizing and disposing of opposition positions and a resource that informs extended research. Students frequently use ProCon.org resources as cited evidence in support of their own developing arguments, a necessary skill that avoids merely summarizing or restating source information. This important skill enables students to develop skills needed to address the synthesis question on the AP English Language exam, which asks students to develop their own position on a given topic and use resources to advance their position. I have linked ProCon.org to my website and students often use its resources in blogs on topics of controversy." Rene Kehau Schofield, Language Arts teacher at Bamberg High School (Bamberg, Germany), June 3, 2009
"Michigan has been hit with particularly bad funding times for schools; many have a zero book/database budget. Sites such as ProCon help students find relevant and recent information on hot-button topics of the day to research or just brainstorm ideas for research topics. In lieu of purchasing the $1,500 per year site license for the Opposing Viewpoints database, we aim students at ProCon.org for research in addition to the state-provided MeL databases. THANK YOU.” Librarian at Roosevelt High School, Apr. 20, 2009
"I am a PhD student now, but I taught social studies for seven years, and used your site a great deal when teaching current events, especially when I would hold debates. As a teacher, I found your website to be very helpful. It is so difficult to lead students to non-partisan information. When conducting student debates, I would provide 2-3 partisan websites on each side of the topic and use your website as the 'neutral' position...I co-taught a social studies methods course last semester and encouraged my pre-service students to use your site." Jeremy Hilburn, former Social Studies teacher, Apr. 3, 2009
"This website is a great free resource! Especially in these tough financial times, it is great to have such a wealth of information on current controversial topic so easily available. Keep up the good work!” Social Studies Teacher at Pittsford Sutherland High School, Apr. 2, 2009
"I’m a political science instructor at Los Medanos College, a two-year institution in Pittsburg, California, about 40 miles east of San Francisco. To give my students practice in developing their critical thinking skills, I assign several persuasive essays each term. Students must present the strongest argument they can on either side of a selected topic. Since I’d like them to concentrate on argumentation instead of research, each assignment specifies several web sites as sources of information. So I’m constantly on the lookout for new sites featuring pro and con discussions or debate formats. I discovered ProCon.org several years ago, and I can honestly say yours is the most useful and informative discussion site I have found....
I always tell my students and colleagues that ProCon.org is the site to check first for research on any public issue. I understand that covering issues in depth takes time and resources, and that limits the number of issues that you can feature. So I’m glad to see that you continue to add issues to your site...Keep up the excellent work!" Dave Zimny, Social Sciences Dept. Chair at Los Medanos College, Apr. 2, 2009
"I started using ProCon.org last semester in critical thinking classes, and it has really invigorated group discussions. Since many students are still trying to formulate their own ideas and opinions, it's hard sometimes for them to engage in a meaningful debate of both sides of an issue. ProCon.org offers a clear and thorough presentation of both sides that makes people consider each side more thoughtfully. It's a great teaching tool." Kate McLaughlin, Journalism Instructor at El Camino College, Mar. 9, 2009
"I love your site and have used it numerous times over the years. I have students write position papers and your site is the main informational site for position papers. Thank you for being there for us!" Nancy Wiley, Psychology Professor at Cape Cod Community College, Jan. 23, 2009
"The thorough documentation, comprehensive and balanced coverage, and logical organization and navigation of each ProCon.org topic site make it an excellent resource for the student undertaking research on one of its 16 selected topics." Community College Library Consortium - Electronic Access to Resources Committee, Dec. 2008
"During the summer session, my humanities class met every day. Because of that, I was able to use pro-con subject material two to three times a week; your service was invaluable in helping students understand various issues in much more depth than that to which they are accustomed. Usually students know (or think they know) whether they are "for" or "against" something, but they are clueless as to solid reasons relative to each position. Pro-con brings subjects to life for them, making for a much more meaningful learning experience.
I also plan to use your service later in the current semester." Steve Clark, Adjunct Instructor of Humanities at Wayne Community College, Sep. 18, 2008
"I am requiring that my speech and debate students use your websites for the final exam. We are doing debates for the final, and you guys have websites for three of the four topics. Brilliant! You should market your website to speech teachers." Carl Rogers, Teacher at Redondo Union High School, Redondo Beach, CA, Jan. 16, 2008
"You have assembled a very helpful resource. Well done. I am glad to be affiliated with this site." [in reference to Euthanasia ProCon.org] Joshua Perry, Assistant Professor, The Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Jan. 11, 2007
"After exploring your site, I saw immediately what an incredible resource this could be for both middle school and high school teachers. My suggestion is this. Generate a section that gives lesson ideas - preferable those that address learning standards in ELA and Social Studies. This section could be lessons created by your staff or it could be a place where teachers across the nation/world post their creative ways of incorporating your currently posted issues. Wish I lived in California....I'd apply for the researcher position!" Colleen (Ithaca, NY), Feb. 3, 2006
[Editor's Note: Colleen, thanks for the suggestion. We built this page in an effort to make ProCon.org more useful to teachers. By the way, if you move to Santa Monica, give us a call.]
"I'm a debate coach at my school and I love your website. Have you thought about creating a topic each year that is linked to the current high school debate topic. Each year every school in the country debates the same topic. This year is about the Patriot Act. Take a look at the National Forensics League (www.nflonline.org) or the Urban Debate League (www.naudl.org). You would have a huge audience of teachers and students to market your website resources to." Eric (Bronx, NY), Oct. 10, 2005
[Editor's Note: Thanks for the suggestion and the compliment. Since each website takes 9-12 months to create and since we have limited resources, many factors go into selecting which topic we will explore. We love the idea of creating a site that will be useful to debaters, so we'll make sure to add NFL and UDL synergy onto our list of selection factors.]
D. Students' Comments on ProCon.org
"As a Grad Student and President of a small education/research business, 'ProCon' has proven to be an invaluable asset in uncovering 'hard-to-find' educational materials.
Indeed, your site has just 'saved' me from hours of research - i am preparing an Exhibit, and your 'History of Milk' timeline provided both the detail i needed in an easy-to-access format." Mary Concannon, President of Heritage Education, Apr. 15, 2013
"If you're ever doing a research paper or an opinionated history paper procon.org is probably the best website ever." Krissy, Mar. 1, 2013
"I found your site I'm sure through a search on Google initially and it's been among my most used bookmarks over this past year or so. I've read a ton of stuff off your site and in some cases it has caused me to rethink my opinions on issues. I feel like procon.org and balancedpolitics.org are the two very best websites available to get fair unbiased coverage of important issues. I'll certainly be citing your website in my assignments in the future and will definitely use it as a resource when and if I ever get a teaching job, which is my ultimate goal." Jim Drewery, student at Moberly Area Community College, July 6, 2011
"I was doing an 'argument paper' for my 'critical thinking' class. Our professor told us that we needed to list both pros and cons related to our topic. I simply Googled something about 'pros cons of ...' and your website as one that came up and it seemed to provide me with the best verifiable information. I assume that in the future I will be submitting a couple more questions/concerns-(unless I find that someone else has already done so). In a word, I think ProCon.org is 'AWESOME!' It includes a wealth of information covering both perspectives of some of the most controversial topics. I finished my paper for school [Editor’s note: She received an "A”], but... I still enjoy going to the site just to read about the different views and the reasoning behind them." Sharon, May 6, 2011
"I love your website. It was a very good information source when I needed a controversal topic to speak about in school." Yehuda, Sep. 27, 2010
"I like this website [Drinking Age ProCon.org] because it let me look at both pro & con so I could make a better decision where I stand before writing my composition II paper for a position argument.” Michael Hammond, Central Ohio Technical College student, Aug. 3, 2009
"I had spent twenty-one days doing research. I skimmed through eleven books, three of which I had to buy, made three trips to two different libraries, because they have virtually nothing on the topic of marijuana, and I read about seventy different websites, all biased to one side or the other. Then by chance I found ProCon.org. Here, all in one place, was everything I needed. It has names, numbers, facts, dates, polls, opinions, graphs, and charts, everything one would need to do a persuasive argument. Plus it cites its sources which is helpful in finding more info...This is the most excellent site on the web and the only place one needs to visit to get a paper finished." Joel Claycomb, a student at Jefferson Community and Technical College, Apr. 6, 2009
"I just want to say this site is amazing. I wish I knew about it when I was in high school it would have helped me out a lot. I'm in college now and I have to write about a controversial issue of my profession im entering which is the medical profession. I have to compare 3 website and without a doubt this one was the best and displayed the most information and was unbiased." Amanda, Feb. 19, 2008
"I greatly appreciate the work of ProCon in general. I am a graduate student of international political economy at The Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, MA (USA) and am preparing a case study about prostitution, human trafficking and the World Cup 2010 (South Africa). I would like to include (with citation) the table located on prostitution.procon.org. The work will not be published but is being presented to a group of about 75 students this Thursday. I will be sure to let other people know about the fabulous service provided by ProCon." Elizabeth, Nov. 27, 2007
"I have used your site [Medical Marijuana ProCon.org] for two different classes this semester. Your site was definitely the best I have found as far as online resources go. I used this site for my speech class (I did a persuasive speech) as well as for my philosophy class (Is marijuana use ethical?) I received "A's" on both. And thank you for the other interesting sites!" Alyssa, student at Notre Dame College, Nov. 14, 2007
"I am a Social Work major. I am doing a paper on prostitution and whether or not it should be legalized. I was so excited to discover your website!!! After much research on the web, I finally got to yours and it summarizes everything that I wanted to say. I will be referencing you a lot and will pass on your website to all the students. Thank you for your unbelievable work." Laura, Sep. 2, 2007
"I am writing a paper for my senior government class. My topic is religious implications in the pledge and/or motto. I would like to thank you for creating this site. It has been an abundant help. Your unbiased representation and distribution of facts is informative and appreciated. Thank You." Ariana, Apr. 17, 2006
"I would just like to let you know how much of a help your website has been to me! I have to participate in a debate at school, and when I was researching my topic, I came across your website. I haven't needed to go to a single other website! Thank you so much for an informative, organized webpage---you guys are awesome!" Rachel, Mar. 6, 2006
"I am on the debate team at school and your website has been the best resource for my last two debates. (Which regarded the Pledge and the Iraqi War.) Thank You!!!" Brittany, Jan. 4, 2006