Teacher Leadership

8 Reasons Teachers Stay Quiet About Ferguson

December 11, 2014

I asked my daughter if they were discussing Ferguson in her classroom. She said “not really”. She further revealed, “We talk about it in the halls, but not with the teachers.”

Hmmm… I wondered if this was the best way for students to have The Conversation. We know that students are talking about it. We must know that some of them are living it. Wouldn’t it seem more useful to support and monitor their monologues instead of allowing the error of trial and error run rampant through the halls?

Hmmm…I wonder how many teachers have responded to student concerns about Ferguson. Because I value integrating current events into curriculum, through extra credit choices, my students have had the option to write about it. It just seems that so many educators are silent. When you are silent, it’s like you are not fully present. In other words, when your voice is absent, you are absent. Outside of an emergency, teachers must show up!

There’s a boost school attendance ad that lists popular absence excuses:

Too tired…

Sick day…

Starting the holidays early…

Just because…

In thinking about Ferguson, are we too tired, too civically unhealthy, or too distracted (by the holidays or other matters) to address it with students? Just as the ad predicts, all of our absences add up. The ad explains that continual absences can keep students from graduating. What is the absence of your voice costing students? How many days have you missed the opportunity to address your student’s concern about safety and equality? In an attempt to be more present and inspire more thoughtful classroom conversations, I created a list of 8 reasons why teachers are silent about Ferguson:

1. Too Personal

Does the issue hit too close to home for you? Have you lost a child? Have you been a victim of violence?  Do you have family or friends that are part of the police force?

2. Too Shy

When it comes to freedom of speech Do you really understand your rights within the classroom? I wrote a short piece on this not too long ago but to summarize:

a) Teachers are public employees and must do and say things that are in line with this role

b) In freedom of speech, the person or organization that is identified as the speaker is important. In general, things in the classroom must represent and be supported by the school board and administration.

c) Courts have an interest in finding a balance between the interest of the teacher and the school/state

For more on teacher freedomm of speach, please see my article "The 5 things you may not know about Teacher's Freedom of Speech" on the ASCE Edge website.

3. Too Confused

Outside of of those of us who are Social Study Teachers and Political Science majors, the legal system is intimidating. Do you know the specifics involved in sending a person (who you believe has broken a law) to trial or to jail? I found a short law for dummie-like resource on msnbc.com titled "6 of Your Questions About Grand Juries Answered" that explains:

a) the difference between a regular jury and grand jury

b) how the grand jury is chosen

c) the reason grand jury's are used

4. Too Unsure

Do you harbor questions about the appropriateness of your lesson or activity concerning Ferguson? If you wish to have some idea of how to effectively discuss Ferguson with students, there are resources available. For instance, there is a guide with talking points that was distributed to Parkway District Schools in St. Louis (please see stltoday.com) and many potential lessons available to help teachers begin planning Ferguson-related activities/discussion.

5. Too Many Consequences

There have been documented instances of strong consequences for teachers addressing the Ferguson issue inappropriately. There is much debate about the Texas teacher that sounded off (with racially charged language) on twitter and lost her job (please take a look at the story on USAtoday.com).  In addition, there is an Alabama teacher that had students insensitively role play the actual shooting of Mike Brown and was suspended (please see article by Rebecca Klein on huffingtonpost.com)

6. Too Small

Can you really induce change by speaking to your students about Ferguson? Remember, one conversation can make a difference. There are plenty of calls to action that you can make your students aware. For instance, they can share their own views or check out other student perceptions of Ferguson by visiting The New York Time Learning Network.  Another way to contribute is by donating to the Ferguson public library.

7. Too Limited

Do you feel you are capable of effectively guiding a class conversation on this sensitive topic? It is ok to acknowledge feeling overwhelmed or even a little weary about managing student reactions in response to Ferguson. In fact some schools have enlisted support and training for teachers to help in talking about Ferguson. You can read about one teacher training offered here.  Some schools have brought in outside help or specialist to work directly with the students. You can read about a special program brought into a high school to teach youth about how to deal with cops. You can read about it here

8. Too Comfortable

Have you become comfortable in the silence? Do you wish to model a stance of silence to your students? I found a great video about the dangers of silence. You can watch it here.

Do any of these reasons reflect why you have been absent from the Ferguson classroom conversation? It’s not too late to join in. What’s keeping you from speaking up? Break the silence and share your thoughts...

 

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.