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Teaching Ferguson

Posted by on Saturday, August 30, 2014 in Commentary, Resource.

by Nancy Chick, CFT Assistant Director

This year at the CFT, through our theme of “Teaching, Difference, and Power,” we turn to the complexities of the roles of difference and power in both what many of us teach and how we all teach. In an earlier post, I explored the notion of “educationally purposeful” ways of talking about race on campus. I want to return to this notion with a pressing example, now that the semester is under way.

On August 9, the world’s attention turned to Ferguson, Missouri. It’s already enough to simply say “Ferguson,” like the metonymies for other moments of great trauma, such as Columbine, Katrina, the Boston Marathon, the grassy knoll, and 9/11. Given its certain historical significance, how do we talk about the events in and about Ferguson right now in our classes, while it’s still raw?  Below are some possibilities:

  • First, the CFT’s guide on Teaching in Times of Crisis reminds us that “‘It is best to do something'”–from very small gestures to curricular overhauls. Worth highlighting here are the sections on facilitating discussions about such events, assigning relevant activities or materials, and the various resources for both students and faculty.
  • An open letter initially drafted by 10 conferees at the American Sociological Association (ASA) conference–and now signed by over 1,400 sociologists–contextualizing Ferguson within what sociologists have long recognized as “deeply ingrained racial, political, social and economic inequities.”
  • The sociologists who wrote the above letter formed a group called Sociologists for Justice and, among other things, created The Ferguson Syllabus, the research articles explaining the arguments in their open letter.  (Here’s an annotated version.)
  • The online international community of the Women’s Studies listserv (WMST-L) had a rich discussion of strategies and resources, and Janell Hobson (University of Albany) compiled the resulting resources, a list which has since been shared widely. It includes readings, videos, online activism, other web & media resources, and discussion suggestions.

I’m sure there are other resources and recommendations compiled by other disciplines.  What are the literary texts that help us understand what’s going on?  What’s the psychology behind the events, including the militarization of the police? What are the economic implications of the initial events on this town—and now of the likelihood that it will become a travel destination for a variety of reasons? What are K-12 teachers doing with their students, both in the Ferguson area and beyond?

Please let us know if you have any thoughts or additional resources–especially collective responses from your discipline.

Photo Credit: EraPhernalia Vintage . . . (playin’ hook-y ;o) via Compfight cc


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