How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson


Via The Atlantic

How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson

 A crowdsourced syllabus about race, African American history, civil rights, and policing

When the unrest in Ferguson erupted, my husband made an observation that broke my heart: “The kids were supposed to start school today.”

For me, the perfume of synthetic fibers and freshly sharpened pencils always signals the start of a new school year, and it makes me ecstatic. As a child, the ritual began with a trip to the uniform store. My older sister and I trekked onto Clark Street via a city bus. Each year, we found ourselves before the counters of what had to be the world’s largest purveyor of Catholic school uniforms. “St. Margaret Mary, please,” we would say. The elderly salesman would fetch my mostly polyester wardrobe for the upcoming school year—a plaid jumper, pleated skirts, Peter Pan-collared blouse, acrylic cardigans—carefully folded in individual plastic bags.

I loved the preparations for the first day of school so much that I became a college professor. I’ve spent most of my 34 Augusts anticipating a school year.

From the beginning of the situation in Ferguson, news reports alerted the public that Michael Brown was to start college soon. Before surveillance videos and photographs of protestors with their hands up were available, people saw a stoic Brown in a bright orange, probably acetate graduation gown. He will not have a first day ever again. And for the children of Ferguson, who have yet to have their first day, they may remember the smell of death, the odor of tear gas, the stench of an American tragedy.

In this kind of situation, people all say, what can I do? I have few talents in a crisis, but I do know I’m pretty good at teaching, and I knew Ferguson would be a challenge for teachers: When schools opened across the country, how were they going to talk about what happened? My idea was simple, but has resonated across the country: Reach out to the educators who use Twitter. Ask them to commit to talking about Ferguson on the first day of classes. Suggest a book, an article, a film, a song, a piece of artwork, or an assignment that speaks to some aspect of Ferguson. Use the hashtag: #FergusonSyllabus.

From a children’s book about living with someone with PTSD to maps of St. Louis’s school-desegregation struggles to J. Cole’s “Be Free,” the Ferguson archive was tweeted, re-tweeted, mentioned, and favorited thousands of times. A small community has formed; the fabric of this group is woven across disciplines and cultural climates. Some of us will talk about Ferguson forcefully, others gingerly, but from preschool classrooms to postdoctoral seminars, Ferguson is on the syllabus.

The following list was compiled by a community of teachers, academics, community leaders, and parents to teach about some aspect of the national crisis in Ferguson, Missouri. This is a snapshot of the recommendations that has been edited. The contributions continue on Twitter.

Teaching About Race and Ferguson

The Danger of a Single Story
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TedTalk

“A Talk to Teachers,” in The Price of the Ticket, Collected Non-Fiction 1948-1985
James Baldwin

Constructing a Conversation on Race
Charles M. Blow, New York Times

Ferguson Killing Inspires Young Black Activists
Frederica Boswell, NPR

On Recognizing My White Privilege as a Parent in the Face of Ferguson
Elizabeth Broadbent, xoJane

5 Ways to Teach Michael Brown and Ferguson in the New School Year” Christopher Emdin, blog

Kathee Godfrey, blog

Teaching About Ferguson
Julian Hipkins, Teaching for Change

#FergusonSyllabus: The #FergusonFiasco and Teaching African American Theology
Andre E. Johnson, blog

What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying? #MichaelBrown
Chris Lehman, blog

What White Children Need to Know About Race
Ali Michad and Eleonora Bartoli,

Between the By-Road & the Main Road: Curated Bibliography on Whiteness, Silence & Teaching
Mary Ann Reilly, blog

Reading Ferguson: books on race, police, protest and U.S. history
Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times

Educators Use Twitter To Teach About Ferguson, Build Syllabuses
Erica Smith, “St. Louis on the Air,” St. Louis Public Radio

Healing Days: A Guide For Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma
Susan Straus

12 Things White People Can Do Now because Ferguson
Janee Woods, Quartz


African-American History/Civil Rights in the United States

SNCC Women, Denim and the Politics of Dress
Tansha Ford, Journal of Southern History

Michael Brown’s High School Is An Example Of The Major Inequalities In Education
Rebecca Klein, Huffington Post

Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools
Jonathan Kozol

Stepping over the Color Line: African-American Students in White Suburban Schools
Amy Stuart Wells and Robert L. Crane


“Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America” (2006)

“Chicago 10” (2007)

“Do the Right Thing” (1989)

“Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1985” (1990)

“Little Rock Central High School: 50 Years Later” (2007)

“The Pruitt Igoe Myth” (2011)

“Freedom Summer” (2014)

Media Studies and Journalism

In Ferguson, Photographs as Powerful Agents, Smartphone cameras are the ‘weapon of choice’ for many protestors
Maurice Berger, New York Times

Unethical journalism can make Ferguson more dangerous
Malcolm Harris, Al-Jazeera America

I will not be returning to Ferguson
Ryan L. Shuessler Blog

White Victims, Black Villains: Gender, Race, and Crime News
Carol A. Stabile

Embarrassed to Photograph Ferguson
VDC Photo Blog


“Be Free”
J. Cole

“Black Rage”
Lauren Hill

“Mississippi Goddam”
Nina Simone

Other Educational Hashtags on Twitter






Personal Reflections

Dear White Mom
Keesha Beckford, blog

Men Without a Country: Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, My Father and Me” Arthur Chu, The Daily Beast

Black Body: Rereading James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village”
Teju Cole, New Yorker

Blue on black violence and original crime: a view from Oakland, California” Brad Erickson,

The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race
Kareem Abdul Jabar, Time

How Does it Feel to be a Problem?
Relando Thompkins, blog

Different Rules Apply
Matt Zoller Seitz,


Gwendolyn Brooks

“If There Be Sorrow”
Mari Evans

“I, Too, Sing America”
Langston Hughes

“If We Must Die”
Claude McKay

“The Still Voice of Harlem”
Conrad Kent Rivers

“Not an elegy for Mike Brown”
Danez Smith

“See the Heart”
Jean Toomer

“Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful”
Alice Walker


The Rise of The Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces
Radley Balko

Database: How many grenade launchers did Michigan police departments receive?”
Detroit Free Press staff

In Ferguson, cops hand out three warrants per household every year
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

The Ferguson Shooting and the Science of Race and Guns
Erika Eichelberger, Mother Jones

The Surprising History and Science of Tear Gas
Brian Clark Howard, National Geographic

Black in Blue: African-American Police Officers and Racism
James Loewen

To What End?
Michael Maderino Blog

Police Brutality: An Anthology
Jill Nelson

The Etiquette of Police Brutality: An Autopsy
Rion Amilcar Scott,

Race and Violence in in America

The Properties of Violence: Claims to Ownership in Representations of Lynching
Sandy Alexandre

The Fire Next Time
James Baldwin

Exploring Unintentional Racism: The Case of Tim Hanks
Robert W. Grossman and Thomas E. Ford, Science Cases

The History of White People
Nell Irwin Painter

Black Riot
Raven Rakia, The New Inquiry

Heart of Whiteness
Tobias Wolff, The New Yorker

This syllabus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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MARCIA CHATELAIN is a professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University. Her most recent book is Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America.

Via The Atlantic