Using Ferguson as a Teaching Tool
By Nia Davis
Two months ago, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decided not to indict a white police officer, who had repeatedly shot and eventually killed an unarmed black teenage boy. One week later, a grand jury in New York City decided not to indict another white police officer, who had choked an unarmed black man to death. The decisions spurred increased fervor in the demonstrations and conversations about race relations and police brutality that began long before the summer of 2014. Some view these grand jury decisions, and the public’s response to them, as a tipping point in the movement against police brutality toward communities of color. The decisions have also awakened the civic consciousness of many young people, prompting them to bring their questions and concerns to the classroom.
It is admittedly difficult to engage in such emotionally charged discussions of race and politics. However as Georgetown University professor, Dr. Marcia Chatelain, and Liz Collins, a teacher at Washington Latin Public Charter School, shared, educators have a unique opportunity to create a space that injects context and critical thinking into these conversations. School administrators can support their faculty, as was done at Washington Latin PCS, by having faculty meetings designed to help teachers think and talk through what they will say to and teach their students about these events. And, for those teachers, students, and parents who would like to continue talking, learning, and demonstrating, there are a number of readily available resources:
- New York Times Learning Network—Teaching About Ferguson
- The Root—Teaching About Ferguson Dos and Don’ts
- The Atlantic—How To Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson
- DCPS – Ten Suggestions for Discussing Michael Brown in Schools
For Parents and Students:
The grand jury’s decisions were delivered two months ago, but the responding conversations and demonstrations have not slowed. On January 17, Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) hosted a Youth Town Hall that invited middle- and high-school students to learn about and discuss issues borne out of the grand jury decisions. As news articles, blog posts, protests, and conversations have continued to be published and discussed, opportunities for students, parents, and teachers to discuss and examine the movement have also increased.
Nia Davis is a legal fellow at the DC Public Charter School Board.