By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Teaching critical thinking during contentious times. It may, in fact, be as difficult as it sounds.

“Everything’s political,” said Kristian, whose sibling attends WT White High School in Dallas. “Everything has consequences.”

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Just weeks into the new school year and already two North Texas school districts have been forced to apologize for questionable assignments.

Last month, a Wylie ISD teacher came under fire after using a cartoon in an assignment that compared law enforcement to slave owners and the KKK.

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Then this week, an English teacher at Dallas ISD’s WT White High School gave students an assignment that asked them to write about which person best fit their definition of a hero. On the list of persons: Mahatma Gandi, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, George Floyd and Kyle Rittenhouse, the accused Kenosha killer. The list also included Joseph Rosenbaum, one of the protestors who was killed.

“So you can do controversy; but, it’s all in how you approach it,” said Dr. Lisa Hobson, interim dean of the School of Education at UNT Dallas. “By presenting the topics, it allows them to think about what their opinions may be, they can pull from their respective backgrounds and experiences, they are able to apply it.”

Hobson says it’s important to teach critical thinking skills by allowing students to draw their own conclusions through research on topics and situations, rather than responding to an educator’s opinion. Other education experts say it is possible to balance critical thinking and controversy and do it well — just don’t try to go at it alone.

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“School districts have great curriculum already laid out, making sure that you stay within your standards, and your guidelines,” said Dr. Patsy Sosa-Sanchez, a professor and assistant dean of education at UNT Dallas. “I think collaboration within a team needs to be happening, particularly right now.”