Discussing Ferguson in the Classroom

As we see history continue to repeat itself after the verdict in the Michael Brown case, I think it is important to use text to engage our students in the issues surrounding the verdict, the case, and the riots.  In doing this, I can only hope that our students may find ways to understand different perspectives and think about what their role is now and could be in the future as our society continues to deal with similar issues.

Since Ferguson is a hot news item at the moment and arguably a pertinent one for American society, I’ve compiled some resources you could use in your classroom to discuss the underlying issues and the riots that erupted last week.  You could easily work these in for Socratic Seminar, practice with informational text, creative writing and/or writing prompts, or even a performance assessment.  And it would be interesting (I think) to see what parallels or connections might your student be able to draw to history and literature they know and/or have read with you.

Hopefully you find something here that is helpful to you.  If you want a brainstorming partner to work out ways to connect this to your 2nd marking period curriculum, you know how to find me. 🙂

1. The Learning Network: A blog post from from the New York Times Learning Network, “The Death of Michael Brown: Teaching about Ferguson” has some great nonfiction resources including article links and photographs.  It even has a section on preparing students for a difficult discussion.

2. Poetry (spoken word and written):series of poems on a blog from Words Dance Publishing that deal with some of the issues coming up in the Ferguson trial and result.  You could choose poems (spoken word performances as well as links to poems) to annotate or analyze in class (if you’re doing expository and/or text analysis), you could analyze the author’s compilation — why did she choose these poems? What is her bias? slant? (if you’re doing argument), and with any of them, you could have students connect these poems to current events and use the current events to work on analyzing informational text.  If you’re looking for a creative writing assignment, you could also ask students to write their own poem about the case and the riots. (Don’t forget our Writers’ Tea in the Spring!! Would be great to have some student thoughts & commentary on social issues and current events).

3. Leonard Pitts’s Commentary: One of my favorite editorial authors (great for analyzing structure and teaching/modeling kids how to analyze structure – reading informational text standard 5 and also for bias/slant and argument), Leonard Pitts has had a few things to say:

4. 1992 LA Riots & Rodney King: There’s also the connection to the LA Riots from 1992, covered in this article with before and after pictures of LA during the riots and today.  This might work great with a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, “The End and the Beginning,” which includes this final stanza:

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.
This pairing could encourage discussions about “war” and perhaps some a Writers’ Notebook prompt where they imagine what the “someone” is seeing as he gazes as the clouds or continue/create a narrative from that perspective (Writers’ Tea?)  (FYI: In another translation of this poem, “gazing” was translated at “gawking,” which I think is a dramatic difference also worthy of discussion).
I also am intrigued by this idea of grass overgrowing causes & effects, and I think the before and after photos in the article linked above demonstrate it.  What does that mean? Is it positive/negative?  I think this says something about Szymborska’s attitude about war, but it could also inspire a discussion about the implications of this overgrowth.

5. King vs Malcolm X: Nonviolence vs. Force.  These two men’s writings and philosophies could easily help start the discussion about how to deal with injustice.  Is nonviolence enough?  Have the riots in Ferguson overshadowed injustice?  Which makes people stand up and pay attention more?  Which might achieve the goal more effectively?  If you want to work in technology, you could read King (Letter from Birm. City Jail?) and watch a clip from Malcolm X.

6 The Justice System: Twelve Angry Men: And, of course, there’s always Twelve Angry Men (film and text), which could easily be a performance assessment when paired in part or full, but can also be a Socratic Seminar text in clips.  I don’t see it listed on the Scope & Sequence, so it’s fair game.

If you’re using other resources or have additional ideas, feel free to share them in the comments section below for all to see.

7. History Repeating: Robert F. Kennedy’s Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. is both a great tie in and another way to do language and structure analysis through these current events and their connections to the past.  And, of course, there are great options for pairing text.  Thanks Karyn Miller for this text and great idea!


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