The fundamental principle pertaining to classroom discussions is that the teacher should treat students with respect, and students should treat each other with respect.  The guidelines that flow from that principle include:

  • Avoid ad hominem attacks.  It is entirely legitimate to criticize a view expressed by another member of the class, but criticism of the person who expresses a view is inappropriate.
  • When engaged in an argument, address the best interpretation of the stance taken by one’s opponent.
  • Do not conflate arguments offered in role-playing exercises with statements meant to express speakers’ personal views.
  • Feel free to discuss with people who are not members of the class any issues addressed or views expressed in the classroom.  However, strive to do so in ways that will not chill classroom discussion.  This implies that:
    • Ordinarily, it is inappropriate to identify (directly or indirectly) the person who made a potentially controversial statement in class.  This is especially true with respect to contributions to social media, because of the potential permanence and wide dissemination of such contributions.
    • One should strive to describe fairly the context in which a potentially controversial statement was made. 
    • One should minimize references to the race, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation of the people who have made potentially controversial statements in class, unless such characteristics are directly relevant to the issue being discussed.
    • It is helpful to keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes.

When the application of one of these guidelines is unclear, it is better to seek guidance from the fundamental principle than to parse the language of the guideline in question.

Responsibility for maintaining an atmosphere characterized by honesty, inclusiveness, and respect is shared by the teacher and the students in the class.