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
“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, nais.org
“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
“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
100 Years of Lynchings
African-American Identity in the Gilded Age
The Library of Congress
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America
Speech delivered by C.L.R. James, 1967
“How the Children of Birmingham Changed the Civil-Rights Movement”
Lottie L. Joiner, The Daily Beast
Black Liberation in the Midwest: The Struggle in St. Louis, Missouri, 1964-1970
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
“On Ferguson, Missouri: History, Protest, and 'Respectability'”
Clarence Lang, Labor and Working Class History Association blog
March: Book One
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
“Learning from the 60s”
An address by Audre Lorde, 1982