Questions involving facts and explanations.
These questions focus on disagreements
about the descriptions or explanations of events. In discussion,
factual claims can be supported by appealing to common knowledge,
citing personal observations, or referring to authoritative
sources. In the face of disagreements about facts/explanations,
discussion can be moved forward by stipulation (participants
agree to proceed on the basis of one set of factual claims,
even though not all agree with those claims) or by agreeing
to support their positions using other arguments. It should
be pointed out, however, that fact/explanation issues over
which there is disagreement offer an opportunity for student
inquiry. As the examples in the chart above indicate, a
discussion of a controversial public issue can identify
many questions to spark student research.
Questions of definition.
These questions revolve around
the meaning of important words or phrases. Resolving these
questions can generally be achieved through use of an authoritative
source or agreement to use a word in a specific way. While
the previous sentence might suggest that definitional issues
are not of much significance, that conclusion would be false.
Disagreements over definitional issues are often numerous,
profound, and unrecognized, contributing to discussions
that go nowhere. Learning to identify that two discussants
have totally different conceptions of what we mean by terrorism,
for example, is an important skill.
Ethical or value questions.
These questions deal with judgments about what should or
ought to be done--judgments about rightness and wrongness.
Often, disagreements about these kinds of questions have
to do with which of two conflicting goods (e.g., liberty
and security) should take priority. In resolving such disagreements,
the public issues model would encourage students to look
for compromises that violate each contending value to the
least extent possible. One of the most powerful techniques
for clarifying thinking on ethical issues is the analogy.
Examining how an issue might be resolved in one or more
related cases forces discussants to make distinctions and
qualifications that strengthen and clarify their position.
In the wake of the September 11 attack, many commentators
drew upon Pearl Harbor as an analogy. Although it is not
a particularly close analogy, its frequent use makes it
a fruitful case for analysis. Cases that were more clearly
international terrorist attacks (e.g., the bombing of Pan
Am flight 103 or the embassy bombings) or that involved
domestic terrorism (e.g., "rogue" fundamentalist
Christians' lethal attacks on abortion clinics or the Oklahoma
City bombing) would help students make other useful distinctions.