On Teaching Ferguson Part Two

on Dec 30, 2014 in Blog by

I spoke with a community member who said an altercation between students occurred after they had a charged discussion about the Darren Wilson grand jury outcome. Although a small part of me supports keeping Ferguson out of classrooms, reality is many students already reacted to what has unfolded since the death of Mike Brown. Leading facilitated conversations with students is practical, as this gives students a way to decompress and even be forward-looking. This is not a lightweight task.  Part one of this blog exemplifies what can go wrong when controversial subjects are arbitrarily introduced to classrooms. This blog, On Teaching Ferguson Part Two, highlights what contributes to leading a bold but successful dialogue around this sensitive topic. In addition to these tips, I encourage teachers to become familiar with the basics of facilitating race-related conversations and how to maintain a healthy atmosphere during the course this dialogue (such as periodically checking the emotional temperature classroom, see tip number 8).

Tip 1. Just do it. Many of those who died during police interactions are youth and as a result youth will likely form opinions, questions, and concerns. Schools can be safe zones that allow students to voice their reactions this controversial subject. To feel apprehensive about leading this conversation is fine. It’s impossible to understand each dynamic imbedded into Ferguson but important to initiate conversations in an environment that welcomes and protects student voice.

Tip 2. Ask students what outcomes they hope to achieve. Let students know you want to meet their needs. Jot down their questions, comments, and overall emotional reactions. Use this feedback to structure a suitable dialogue or activity. An online search will generate activity ideas. Teachers should create an emotionally safe atmosphere. Set ground rules that require peers to speak courteously, never in absolutes, and to respect differing opinions.

Tip 3. Approach the death of Mike Brown as a dynamic topic. I had an opportunity to speak with current and past residents of St. Louis County. More often than not they stressed how past decisions contribute to the unrest seen after Michael Brown died. The NAACP endorsed a report which argues this point. The Making of Ferguson: Public Policies at the Root of Its Troubles by Richard Rothstein examines the impact of policy influenced racial segregation patterns that began in the 1900s. Additional angles observe the influence of criminal justice policies while others track education related issues and the impact of racially homogeneous community leadership. Place the issue within a national context. Blacks have historically experienced unprosecuted deadly policing. Don’t underestimate the influence of race. Please don’t focus on looting. And Share relevant points with students!

In all, Ferguson cannot be placed into a box. Don’t approach this topic with such a limiting lens. Time constraints as well as capacity will limit the depth at which classrooms engage with this subject. It’s perfectly fine if classes explore an angle that falls outside of peripherals constructed through media. I encourage facilitators to research the backstory, so each has a well-versed idea of what caused unrest. This will help reduce uninformed, haphazard thoughts, judgments, and comments that only weaken dialogue.

Tip 5. Recognize your bias. Examine your thoughts about the issue and individuals involved. Remain independent. This conversation is intended to support students. It’s not propaganda, and it’s not intended to persuade students towards opinions of the teacher.


  • Vina says:

    It’s great to read something that’s both enjoyable and provides prmtiagasdc solutions.

  • http://www./ says:

    João no final vamos ver se não ficamos por cima de vós.O vosso campo parecia um autêntico batatal é dificil para quem tem jogadores técnicamente bons.tiveste a sorte do jogo, agora se percebes minimamente de futebol não me venhas dizer que foi um banho de futebol que até te fica mal.

  • Why do I hate the CBC so much?Because those in charge have done everything in their power to NOT tell Canadians the whole story aboutour troops and civilians in Afghanistan,made the deaths of our brave soldiers news and their many small victories burried, if carried at all.Because Susan Bonner works for them.Because the CBC is in so deep with the LPC it can’t possibly be unbiased.Because taxpayers are forced to support a media that is in no way offers Canadians something they can’t get in this age of satellite and internet.The CBC is so 50′s, outlived it’s usefullness.

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