The Flemish Peace Institute is an independent
institute for peace research at the Flemish Parliament.

Controversy in the classroom

Our coexistence in today’s society is under pressure. Political and social discussions become heated debates, contradictions become explicit, both in classrooms and at school. A pupil makes a hateful comment. Pupils become embroiled in a conflict. Sensitive topics in the curriculum, such as the theory of evolution, meet with resistance or give rise to intense discussions. Or polarisation rules the classroom. A group of pupils adopts increasingly extreme points of view, or the contradictions between groups become so pronounced that they reject each other’s opinions. These situations create huge challenges for teachers and headmasters. How to respond to violent or hateful statements? How to deal with conflicts in school? How to teach sensitive themes in the curriculum? How to defuse polarisation? How to engage in debates on controversial topics without causing a riot in class? The Flemish Peace Institute searches for answers to these questions. Our mission is to provide insights from scientific research to people in the field, as well as map the existing expertise of teachers, headmasters and trainers, and share it as widely as possible.

The Flemish Peace Institute’s research into controversy in classrooms must be seen in the context of our broader interest in conflict management and peace education. Since our inception, we focus on such questions as: What does peace education mean and how can we interpret this? How do schools in Flanders organise peace education? Which approach works, and which doesn’t in the context of peace education?