Resources for Addressing Ferguson in the Classroom

By Jordan Moeny — November 25, 2014 3 min read
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Schools may be closed in St. Louis following yesterday’s announcement of a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson for the August death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, but that’s not the case for most districts around the country. Here are some resources for teachers planning on talking about the events and developments in Ferguson.

Back in August, Marcia Chatelain, a history professor at Georgetown University, started the still-active #FergusonSyllabus hashtag on Twitter to encourage teachers and community members to share resources for talking about Ferguson in schools. Chatelain also has grade-specific suggestions for what subjects might be appropriate for students and a list of useful pieces in the Atlantic.

In St. Louis, Ferguson has been on many teachers’ agendas for several months. Last month, St. Louis Public Radio did a three-part series on the benefits and struggles of using the Ferguson shooting as “teachable moment.” (NPR has a consolidated version of the series available as well.)

The New York Times Learning Network posted a forum this morning to get students’ reactions to the Ferguson decision. So far, most student responses have focused on the racial aspects of the case. While students are encouraged to respond directly in the comments section, teachers could use the questions in the piece to spur in-person discussions as well. The Learning Network also discussed teaching about Ferguson earlier in the school year and collected teachers’ input on the subject.

PBS NewsHour has developed a collection of Ferguson resources for teachers, including background on the story, recent news, and information about this history of nonviolent civil resistance. NewsHour’s Ferguson in the Classroom page also includes relevant news clips from the show.

The Root wrote up a list of “Do’s and Don’ts for Teaching About Ferguson” in September. A sample: “Process it yourself first, ask students what they want to know and by all means, don’t make the lesson colorblind.”

Dan Krutka of the Texas Woman’s University Department of Teacher Education has curated a document of instructional resources on Ferguson submitted by teachers, many of whom included a description of how they used (or plan to use) the material.

The City University of New York has some discipline-specific resources for teachers, originally compiled in September, that look at how the events in Ferguson can be related to criminology, art history, literature, and more.

At Teaching for Change, Julian Hipkins III has republished a piece from August about teaching Ferguson. The article focuses on historical and current race issues rather than events in Ferguson specifically, but it contains a large number of resources for teachers looking to talk about some of the underlying issues in this case.

Similarly, the NEA has a guide to teaching about racial profiling that was developed shortly after the shooting occurred.

On Edutopia, Travis J. Bristol writes about expanding the conversation about Ferguson to the greater school community, arguing that unless the entire school is on the same page where issues of race and violence are concerned, classroom discussions aren’t very effective.

Finally, Inda Schaenen’s heartfelt Commentary piece for Education Week about teaching at Michael Brown’s former district is worth revisiting in the light of last night’s announcement:

Since Aug. 9, there is the unspoken but ever-present awareness, especially among the boys, that life can end in a flash, even for the kids--like Michael Brown--who manage to navigate the system and graduate. So how do you tell a 14-year-old about the value of staying in school, given what happened here? Believe me, I'm trying.

Of course, Ferguson has also be a hot topic for discussion and idea-sharing among teachers on Twitter. Here are some samples:

Photo: Youths walk past a mural depicting peace in Ferguson on a vacant building up the street from the city’s police department on Nov. 23, in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson and the St. Louis region are on edge in anticipation of the announcement by a grand jury whether to criminally charge Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. --David Goldman/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.