Classroom in Conflict

Teaching Controversial Subjects in a Diverse Society

By John A. Williams

Subjects: African Studies
Series: SUNY series, The Philosophy of Education
Paperback : 9780791421208, 222 pages, September 1994
Hardcover : 9780791421192, 222 pages, September 1994

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Table of contents

by William R. Taylor


1. One Classroom: An Introduction

2. Conflicting Views of the Classroom Revolution

3. The Teacher's Pitch and the Student Audience

4. Insiders and Outsiders

5. The Colonizer and the Colonized

6. The Uses of Comparative History

7. Teaching a Racially Sensitive Subject

8. On Understanding the South African Freedom Struggle

9. Imperialism

10. Nationalism and Racism: The Keywords

11. Structures of Argument in African History

12. The Other: The Problem of Authenticity

13. The World Context of American Pluralism

14. Learning in the Pluralist Classroom

15. The Rules of Discussion

16. In Pursuit of Pluralism




This book transcends recent debates about political correctness to address the underlying problems of teaching controversial subjects in the college and university history classroom. The author criticizes both sides of the debate, rejecting, on the one hand, calls for a uniform, chronological history curriculum and, on the other hand, claims that only ethnic or racial "insiders" are qualified to teach about their communities.

In chapters on colonial, comparative, and African history, Williams applies the concept of "Gandhian truth" to historical subjects, moving through tentative and flexible perspectives to achieve a complex picture of historical episodes. And in chapters on imperialism, nationalism, racism, and the problem of "the other," he discusses the difficult and contingent nature of conceptual language. In the second half of the book, he addresses framing rules of discussion by which sensitive issues can be discussed with diverse audiences, the relationship of American pluralism to a world perspective, and what can be accomplished through an education in pluralism.

John A. Williams is Associate Professor of History at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.


"This is a remarkable book. It does more to open up a dialogue about important questions in higher education than any other book I have read. Williams has taken on many difficult teaching situations and, using his own experiences, built a convincing case for a continuing dialogue on teaching about pluralism. " — Glenn A. Linden, Southern Methodist University

"John A. Williams has given us not another critical polemic or reformist panacea but rather a cautionary tale focused upon his own teaching—and learning—experience. Classroom in Conflict is that rare thing: a user's manual for the college teacher that is also a philosophical contribution to education. In moments of reflection—and they are many—its insights illuminate our times. " — from the Foreword by William R. Taylor