Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A List of Controversial Topics


(TESOL Ideas--English for Academic Purposes, Speaking)
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[This list was created for an English for Academic Purposes class.  As part of the course requirements, the students had to lead a class discussion on a controversial topic of their choice.  When my students complained to me that they had no ideas, I generated this list for them.  Although I'm currently teaching in Cambodia, I focused mainly on controversial issues in the United States when I was making this list.  This was because I didn't want to presume to try to tell my students what the controversial topics in their own country were, and so decided to use issues from my own country as an example.  The hope was that this would indirectly spark them to think about their own country.  (Although that being said, some of these issues are more internationally focused.)  These are all the issues I could think of after brainstorming for an afternoon and asking colleagues for ideas.  Let me know in the comments section if I missed anything.]



Abortion
Some people believe that the government should make it illegal to have an abortion.  Other people believe that the decision should be left up to the individual.
Academics and the Arts
In addition to math and science course, many schools also teach art classes, music classes, and even sports.  Some people believe that art, music and sports are important for students.  Other people believe these classes will not help students find good jobs in the future.
Affirmative Action
Some people believe that it is difficult for black people to get jobs in America, so the government should encourage private companies to hire more black people.  Other people believe that race should not be a factor in hiring practices.
Alternative Medicine
More and more people are trying alternative medicine these days.  Some people believe that alternative medicine may have some value that is overlooked by more scientific medical practices.  Other people are reluctant to trust any forms of medicine outside of the scientific medical establishment.
Animal Rights
Everyone knows that humans have rights, but do animals also have rights?  Some people believe that the government should make laws to forbid cruel treatment of animals.  Other people believe that animals do not have any rights.
Animal Testing (See also Animal Rights)
A number of important scientific and medical breakthroughs have been made by experimenting on live animals.  But is it okay to sacrifice the lives of animals for science?  Some people think this is cruel, while other people feel this is necessary for science and medicine to advance.
Arranged Marriages
Some people believe that arranged marriage is preferable to romantic marriages.  Other people prefer romantic marriages.
Atheism versus Religion
Some people believe there is a God, whereas other people believe there is no God.
Capital Punishment/ Death Penalty
Some people believe that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for the most terrible crimes.  Other people believe the death penalty is cruel.
Cell Phones in Public Places
Some people find the constant ringing of cell phones annoying, and would like to see cell phones banned in public places.   Other people would like the freedom to use their cell phones wherever they are.
Centralized Power versus Decentralized Power
Some people believe in a strong National government and weak local (city, states) governments.  Other people believe that the local states should have more power, and that the national government should be kept weak.
Child-Abuse in the Catholic Church
Recently, it has been revealed that many children have been abused by priests in the Catholic Church.  Some people think that the government should get more involved to punish the Church, and regulate its activities.  Other people feel that the church should solve this problem itself without government interference.
Cloning
Recently scientists have been experimenting with duplicating the genetic material from living things.  Some people feel that laws should be created to regulate human cloning.  Other people feel that scientists should be allowed to create whatever they can.
College Tuition
College tuition is becoming very high in the United States, so it is becoming difficult for middle class families and poorer families to pay for college.  Some people think the government should make college tuition free, but other people feel this would cost too much taxpayer money.
Communism versus Capitalism
Some people believe that factories and industry should be privately owned.  Other people believe that the government should own all the factories and industries, and everyone should share the profits equally.
Computers
Do computers make life better, or have we forgotten how to play outside and interact with each other?
Conspiracy Theories
Do you believe everything you read, or do you ever think the government and the media are lying to you?  Some people think there is a hidden history that has never been reported by the government.  These are called conspiracy theories.  Other people think conspiracy theories are crazy.  The most famous conspiracy theories are about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the landing on the moon, and the September 11th terrorist attack.  Do you believe the government is hiding any information about these events?
Creationism versus Evolution (See also Separation of Church and State)
Some people believe that God created the world in six days, and created human beings on the sixth day.  Other people humans evolved after millions of years of evolution.  Should the schools teach both versions, or only evolution?
Dishonest Politicians
Everyone knows politicians lie all the time.  But what should be done about it?  Some people think that politicians who are caught lying should be punished.  Other people worry if the government had the power to punish politicians for their speech, it could be abused for political purposes.
Divorce
100 years ago, divorce used to be very rare.  Now it is becoming more and more common in Western Countries.  Some people believe that if you're not happy in a marriage, it is better to end the marriage.  Other people believe you have a duty to stay married even if you are unhappy.
Drinking Age
In the United States, the current drinking age is 21.  However, in many other countries, the drinking age is much lower.  Should the U.S. lower the drinking age to 18?
Drone Strikes
The United States currently uses mechanized drones to kill terrorists in the Middle East.  Some people believe this method saves lives because it involves no risk for the U.S. soldiers.  Other people worry that war is becoming too easy and too mechanical.
Election Reform
Some people feel that politicians are controlled by big businesses, so we need rules to limit the amount of money businesses can donate to politicians.  Other people feel that businesses should have the freedom to donate as much money as they want to the politicians that they support.
Electronic Voting
Some people feel that elections could be quicker and easier if they were all done by computer.  Other people worry that there would be more possibilities for problems and voter fraud.
English as the Official Language versus Bilingualism
These days, many Spanish speaking immigrants are coming to the United States.   Some people feel that they should be forced to learn English.  Other people feel that the United States should become a bilingual country where both Spanish and English are spoken.
Environmental Regulations
Some people believe that the government should enforce strict environmental regulations on private companies.  Other people believe that the private companies should have the freedom to make their own policies and regulations.
Euthanasia
Euthanasia is the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering.  Some people believe that people should have the freedom to end their life when they want.  Other people believe that the government should not allow euthanasia.
Extra-Terrestrial Beings (Aliens)
Many people claim to have witnessed UFOs or aliens.  Other people don't believe that aliens exists.
Family Dependence versus Independent Living
In many Western countries, children are expected to leave home and live independently by themselves when they become 18.  In many Asian countries, the many generations continue to live together in one house even after the children are grown.  Which model do you think is better?
Feminism
Some people believe men make better leaders and managers in politics and in the workplace.  Other people believe that women can lead just as well as men.
Flag Burning
Sometimes people will burn the flag as a protest against the government.  Some people feel that flag burning is offensive and should be made illegal.  Other people feel that flag burning should be permitted as a form of free-speech.
Free Trade
Some people feel that there should be no restrictions or tariffs for trading between one country and another.  Other people feel that governments need to have regulations to protect its own industries from outside competition.
Free Will (See also Nature versus Nurture)
Are we really free to choose our own actions, or are our actions simply a result of our biological make-up combined with the influences of our environment?  What causes some people to turn out "bad" while other people turn out "good"?  Can people be held morally responsible for what they do? 
Freedom of Speech
Some people freedom of speech is an absolute right to say anything they want.  Other people believe there should be limits placed on freedom of speech to ensure social stability, or to protect vulnerable minority groups.
Gambling
Some people feel that gambling should be illegal because some people might waste all their money.  Other people feel that people should have the freedom to do what they want with their own money.
Genetically Modified Food
Some people feel that genetically modified food is the key to solving world hunger.  Other people worry about the health risks of genetically modified food.
Government Bailouts
In 2008, several major U.S. companies went bankrupt.  The U.S. Government used tax-payer money to save these companies from bankruptcy.  Some people feel that tax-payer money should never be used to help private companies.  Other people feel that this was necessary to do to save the economy.
Government Spending
The United States government currently spends much more money than it has.  Some people feel that this is irresponsible and bad policy.  However, some economists argue that deficit spending is needed to grow the economy.
Government Spending on the Arts
In the United States (and many other countries) the government provides some money to support public art.  Some people feel that this is an invaluable way to support art in a country.  Other people feel that this is a waste of taxpayer money.
Government Surveillance
Some people believe that the government must monitor the private e-mails of its citizens in order to prevent another large terrorist attack (like 9-11).  Other people believe that citizens have the right to privacy from government surveillance.
Graffiti
Some people consider graffiti a form of art.  Other people say it is simply vandalism.
Gun Control
Some people believe that the government should control and limit access to guns to prevent shootings.  Other people believe that citizens should have the right to own guns for their own protection.
Hip-Hop Music
Many people feel that hip-hop music should be banned, because it contains bad words and disrespectful lyrics.  Other people feel that musicians should have the freedom to say what they like.
Homosexual Marriage
Traditionally in Western countries, marriage has always been thought of as between a man and a woman.  Recently, however, there has been a growing acceptance of homosexuality in Western countries, and many people now think that homosexuals should have the right to get married.  Other people are opposed to changing the traditional definition of marriage.
Homosexual Rights
Conservative Christianity and many other religions believe homosexuality is a sin.  However, nowadays homosexuality is becoming more and more accepted in mainstream culture.
Hydroelectric Power
Hydroelectric power (dams) creates no Greenhouse Gases and does not contribute to Global Warming.  For this reason, some people feel that hydroelectric Power may be the answer to our current environmental crisis.  Other people feel that hydroelectric power destroys many natural environments and rivers.
Illegal immigration
Many illegal immigrants arrive in the United States every year.  Some people feel that the United States government needs to work harder to arrest and deport all the illegal immigrants.  Other people feel that the current law is not possible to enforce, and that immigration reform is needed.
Income Inequality
In the United States, the gap between the rich and poor has never been greater.  Some people feel that the government should take steps to make the rich and poor more equal (for example, by putting higher taxes on the rich.)  Other people feel that the government shouldn't punish rich people for their success.
Internet Censorship
Some people believe that the government needs to censor the Internet to protect children from pornography.  Other people believe that the Internet should be completely free from any government censorship.
Intervention versus Non-Intervention
Some people believe that the United States should use its powerful military to prevent human rights atrocities around the world.  Other people believe that the United States shouldn't interfere other countries regardless of what may be happening.
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Global Issue)
The Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting each other for many years now.  Some people support the Israelis, and some people support the Palestinians.
Left-Handedness
The majority of the world is right-handed, and many of the objects we use everyday are made with right-handed people in mind.  Some parents and teachers believe it is helpful for left-handed children to be forced to use their right hand  Other people believe left-handed children should be encouraged to use their left hand.
Marijuana Legalization
Some people believe that marijuana should be illegal because it is harmful to the body.  Other people believe that individuals should have the freedom to treat their own bodies in whatever way they want to.
Minimum Wage
Some people say that the minimum wage in the US is too low, and that the government needs to raise the minimum wage to a "living wage" that will allow people to support themselves in a minimum wage job.  Other people believe that raising the minimum wage will cause inflation, and so not help the poor.
Money versus Job Satisfaction
Some people think money is the most important part of a job.  Other people think that job satisfaction (how much you enjoy your job) is the most important thing.
Nature versus Nurture
How much of our personality is from our biological inheritance, and how much of our personality is determined by the way we are raised?
Net Neutrality
Some Internet providers want to provide faster access for websites if they pay extra money.  Other people believe that all the websites should have equal access to the Internet.
Nonviolence versus Violence (Political Change)
Some people believe political change should only happen through nonviolent methods.  Other people believe sometimes violence is necessary to affect real political change.
Nuclear Power
Nuclear power produces no Greenhouse Gases and does not contribute to Global Warming.  For this reason, some people feel that Nuclear Power may be the answer to our current environmental crisis.  Other people feel that the problems of radioactive waste and the risks of nuclear meltdown are far too great.
Nuclear Weapons
The United States currently has the world's largest supply of nuclear weapons.  Some people believe that the nuclear weapons are necessary to protect its citizens and prevent another war.  Other people believe that nuclear weapons are too dangerous and must be destroyed.
The Obesity Crisis
America is suffering from an obesity crisis.  Some people feel that the government should get involved by banning food with too much fat or sugar.  Other people feel that it is not the government's business to regulate what people can eat, and people should have the freedom to eat whatever they want.
Overpopulation/One-Child Policy (Global Issue)
To counter the threat of over-population, many people feel that the government should create policies to limit population growth, such as China's one-child policy.  Other people feel that it is a human right to have as many children as you want.
Pacifism versus Just War Theory
After the horrors of World War I and World War II, many people came to believe that war is never justified.  Other people believe that occasionally war is necessary to stop a greater evil.
Patriotism
Some people believe it is good to be proud of your country.  Other people believe that patriotism can lead to conflicts and wars.
Prison Reform
Some people believe that prisons should be designed to punish the prisoners by making their experience as unpleasant as possible in order to scare them into never committing a crime again. Other people believe that prisons should be designed to reform the prisoners through education so that they will have more opportunities in the future and will not commit crimes again.
Private Lives of Politicians
Recently, many politicians have had their careers ruined by sexual scandals.  The most famous was Bill Clinton, who was impeached because of his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.  Some people believe that a politician's private life has no affect on their ability to govern, and so the public should not be concerned about the sexual lives of politicians.  Other people believe that a politician's private life is important to the public.
Progressive Income Tax versus Flat Income Tax
Some people believe that the rich should pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes.  Other people believe that everyone should pay the same percentage.
Prostitution
Many people believe that prostitution should be illegal.  Other people believe that the government shouldn't attempt to legislate morality.
Public Transportation
Many people believe public transportation (buses, trains, subways) will help to solve traffic congestion and cut down on pollution.  On the other hand, public transportation is costly for the government, often inefficient, and often under-used by the public.  Should the government continue to subsidize public transportation even if it is under-used?
Racism
Everyone agrees racism is bad, but there is still a debate about how much racism exists.  Some people believe that the United States has overcome racism to become a non-racist society.  Other people believe the United States is still a deeply racist country.  (You could also discuss this issue with other countries.)
Religious Pluralism
Recently, many Muslim immigrants have been moving to traditionally Christian countries like the U.S. and Europe.  Some Western people don't like the traditional Muslim dress and headscarves, and don't want Muslim people to cover their faces in Western countries.  Other people feel that all religions should be respected.
Role of Government
What role should government play in our everyday lives?  Some people believe in a very limited government--the only role of government is to protect its citizens from violence, and taxes should be kept as low as possible.  But other people believe that the government should use taxpayer money to provide healthcare, food, and shelter for poorer citizens.  Still other people believe that the government should have a role in protecting the morals of its citizens, but regulating unhealthy items (e.g. alcohol drugs), banning immoral activities (e.g. prostitution), and censoring the media.  What do you think the role of government should be?
School Choice
Traditionally, children are supposed to attend the public school in the district in which they live.  Some people think that the government should allow children to choose which school they want to go to.  Other people worry that this would undermine the public education system.
School Uniforms
Some people feel that strict laws about school uniforms are necessary to control students' clothing at school.  Other people feel that students should have the freedom to wear whatever clothing they want to.
Secession/ Self-Determination (Global Issue)
Many regions or areas would like to become independent (Catalonia, Chechnya, Southern Thailand).  However, often the central government will forbid them from becoming independent.  Should local regional areas have the power to become independent against the wishes of the central government?
Separation of Church and State
Some people believe that schools should teach children about religion and morality.  Other people believe that religion and government schools should be kept completely separate.
Sexual Education
Some people believe that teaching sexual education in schools will help young people be aware of how to prevent unwanted pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  Other people believe that teaching young people about sex will encourage more teenagers to have sex before marriage.
Sin Taxes
In many Western countries, alcohol and tobacco are heavily taxed to discourage their use.  This is known as a "sin tax".  Some people believe the government should make alcohol and tobacco expensive to discourage people from using them.  Other people believe that the government should not try to influence private behaviour.
Smoking (See also: Sin Taxes)
Everyone knows smoking is unhealthy, but should the government take steps to limit smoking, or should people have the freedom to make their own decisions.  What steps should the government take?  What about the dangers of second hand smoke?  Should people have the freedom to smoke in public places, such as bars and restaurants?
Social Media
More and more children use social media these days.  However, there is always the danger that predatory adults could contact children over social media with bad intentions.  Should parents allow their children to use social media?
Spiritualism Versus Materialism (See also Atheism versus Religion)
Some people believe only in scientific materialism, the only reality is that which can be proved by science.  Other people believe in the existence of many other things (ghosts, spirits, et cetera) which can not be scientifically proven.
Stand Your Ground Laws
In the United States, stand-your-ground law states that a person may justifiably use force in self-defence without an obligation to retreat first.  Some people believe you have the right to defend yourself, even if it means killing the other person.  Other people believe that in a dangerous situation, you should try to run away first before you have the right to kill someone.
Standardized Testing
Some people believe that the government must set and enforce standardized tests for all the students to ensure that all the schools are meeting the same standards.  Other people feel that putting too much emphasis on tests will discourage creativity and critical thinking in the schools.
Syria (See also Intervention versus Non-Intervention)
Some people think the international community should  get involved in the civil war in Syria to prevent more deaths.  Other people think that foreign intervention in Syria will only lead to disaster.
Taxes
Taxes pay for many valuable things like schools, libraries, hospitals, police, fireman, roads, et cetera.  Some people think that taxes are part of any civilized society.  Other people feel it is unfair when the government takes away their money without their consent.
Torture
Some people believe that some kinds of torture may be necessary to get important information from terrorists.  Other people believe that torture is never justified.
Trade versus Sanctions
Some people feel that the U.S. government should impose sanctions on rogue governments like North Korea and Cuba to punish them until they improve their human rights.  Other people feel that the best way to encourage reform in these countries is to maintain good trading relationships.
Traffic Congestion (See also Public Transportation)
As more and more people drive cars in the cities, the roads are becoming overcrowded and congestion.  Should the government introduce policies to try to limit the use of private cars?  If so, what policies?  Or should people have the freedom to drive their cars whenever they want?
Unions
In America and many Western countries, unions have been important in protecting workers' rights.  However, as the global economy becomes more and more competitive, some people believe unions are hurting businesses by demanding salaries that are too high, and that countries without strong unions, like China, will be able to defeat American businesses.
Universal Health Care
Some people believe that the government should provide free health insurance to all its citizens.  Other people believe that government control of health care will lead to less freedom and choice in hospitals.
Vegetarianism
Some people believe it is cruel to kill and eat animals.  Other people believe it is the natural for humans to eat meat.
Violence and the Media
Some people believe that violent video games and movies encourage violent behavior.  Other people believe that violent entertainment has no effect on people's behavior in real life.
Voting Age
In many countries, teenagers and children are not allowed to vote.  Some people feel that there should be an age limit on voting.  Other people feel that young people should also be allowed to participate in democracy.
War on Drugs
In Mexico and the Southern U.S., many criminal gangs have become very powerful by trading drugs.  Some people feel that if drugs were legalized, this would put the criminal gangs out of business and decrease crime.  Other people feel that drug legalization would only increase crime.
Welfare
Some people believe that the government should provide help (food and housing) to people who don't have jobs.  Other people believe too much government assistance will make people lazy and overly-reliant on the government
Wikileaks
Some people believe that the Wikileaks website is illegal and should be shut down, because it exposes important government secrets.  Other people believe that the public has a right to know these government secrets.
Work and Study
Is it better for students to concentrate on their studies full time?  Or should students try to gain work experience while they study?  (Of course many students must work out of financial necessity, but for this discussion assume students have the option to do either.)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fast food
Public transportation

Anonymous said...

Fast food
Public Transportation

Joel said...

Hey, thanks for the ideas.
I've actually got public transportation already. (It's a big list, I know, and it's easy to miss things.) Although I'm not entirely sure I've framed the debate right. I'll quote below, tell me what I'm missing:

Public Transportation
Many people believe public transportation (buses, trains, subways) will help to solve traffic congestion and cut down on pollution. On the other hand, public transportation is costly for the government, often inefficient, and often under-used by the public. Should the government continue to subsidize public transportation even if it is under-used?

As for fast food, I feel like that is already covered under the obesity crisis. But again, let me know if I'm missing anything. Should it be a separate topic?
The Obesity Crisis
America is suffering from an obesity crisis. Some people feel that the government should get involved by banning food with too much fat or sugar. Other people feel that it is not the government's business to regulate what people can eat, and people should have the freedom to eat whatever they want.