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

#FergusonSyllabus” 
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
Susan Straus

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

#Ferguson
zotero.org

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
Ralph Ginzburg

Bombingham
Anthony Grooms

African-American Identity in the Gilded Age
The Library of Congress

Stalking the Angel of Death: The Lynching Calendar

The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Alex Haley

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America
Melissa Harris-Perry

Black Power
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
Kenneth Jolly

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

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power
Danielle L. McGuire

"'We have to make them feel us': Open Letters and Black Mothers' Grief"
Emily Owens, African American Intellectual History blog

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision Barbara Ransby

Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America
Beryl Satter

The Red Record
Ida B. Wells

The Miseducation of The Negro
Carter G. Woodson

Native Son
Richard Wright

Children’s Books

Noughts & Crosses
Malorie Blackman

Smoky Night
Eve Bunting and David Diaz 

What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?
Margaret Burroughs 

I am Rosa Parks
Brad Meltzer

Ruth & the Green Book
Calvin Ramsey

Tar Beach
Faith Ringgold

As Fast As Words Could Fly
Pamela Tuck

The Skin You Live in
Michael Tyler

The Other Side
Jacqueline Woodson

Shining Star
Paula Yoo

Community Organizing, Leadership, Activism

Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual
American Civil Liberties Union

When the Boss Feels Inadequate: Power, Incompetence, and Aggression
Nathanael J. Fast and Serena Chen, Psychological Science 

From Eric Holder: A Message to the People of Ferguson
Eric Holder, St. Louis Post Dispatch 

“The Mindless Menace of Violence”
Robert F. Kennedy

“The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”
Audre Lorde

Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project
Bob Moses and Charlie Cobb

Thinking in an Emergency
Elaine Scarry

Educational Issues

U.S. Schools: Desegregation court cases and school demographic data
Brown University

Race and the Ferguson-Florissant School District
Shaun R. Harper and Charlee Davis, III, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

See Unending Struggle: The Long Road to an Equal Education in St. Louis, Gerald W. Heaney and Susan Uchitelle

Self-Segregation: Why It's So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson
Robert P. Jones, The Atlantic

Reflections on Ferguson — What does education mean in a world like this? ” Daniel Katz, blog

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

Film

“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

Music

“Be Free”
J. Cole

“Black Rage”
Lauren Hill

“Mississippi Goddam"
Nina Simone

Other Educational Hashtags on Twitter

#sschat

#TTTI

#HipHopEd

#KidLitforJustice

‪#IfTheyGunnedMeDown

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, anthropelia.com

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, rogerebert.com

Poetry

“Riot”
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

Policing

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, AsItOuttoBe.com

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.

Presented by

Marcia Chatelain is an assistant professor of history at Georgetown University and the author of the forthcoming book, South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration.

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