Blog: The Educated Reporter

What Ferguson Means For Students

In the wake of confrontations following the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., local schools are shuttered this week. In addition to concerns about lost learning time, educators have a more urgent worry: making sure students who typically rely on school meals don’t go hungry.

In a demonstration of solidarity among educators – regardless of geography – one enterprising teacher in North Carolina launched an online campaign to support the St. Louis Area Food Bank, which has stepped in to help needy students. So far more than $152,000 has been donated.

But while Ferguson has captured the nation’s attention, just 25 miles away in Edwardsville, Ill., teachers have been instructed not to discuss the riots with their students, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“We all have personal opinions about what has gone wrong, what has gone right. And we all have opinions on what should be done,” the superintendent said. “We don’t need to voice those opinions or engage those opinions in the classrooms.”

To be sure, plenty of educators are viewing Ferguson as a teachable moment – including some from the adjacent district of Jennings. As NPR reported, Jennings shuttered its schools earlier in the week, and teachers and staff took to the streets of Ferguson to help with community clean-up, and delivering meals to special needs students.

“Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings schools superintendent, told NPR. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.”

Indeed, as St. Louis Post-Dispatch education reporter Elisa Crouch wrote Thursday, educators are asking: How To Teach Ferguson? Some local districts are distributing talking points for teachers to use in their discussions, according to the Post-Dispatch. For educators looking for teaching materials to use in their own classrooms, Marcia Chatelain, Georgetown professor of African-American history, has created the Twitter feed #FergusonSyllabus. Educators at the K-12 and college level are sharing background, context and resources especially for teaching students about Ferguson. (Chatelain’s personal Twitter feed is available here.)

Over at Al Jazeera America, Madeline O’Leary takes a closer look at educational inequalities among schools in the St. Louis area. That includes Normandy High School, the alma mater of Michael Brown, whose shooting death sparked the Ferguson riots. Last year parents of Normandy students tried to get their children transferred to more successful – and safer – campuses, but their efforts were met by resistance from families whose children were already there.

“First our schools get shut down in our neighborhood, then our kids get sent to schools where they’re not wanted to begin with, and where the teachers are not prepared to educate them,” Juliana Davis, a lifelong resident of north St. Louis told Al Jazeera America.

In The New Republic, Yale University Law Professor Tracey Meares also explores the troubled legacy of segregation in St. Louis-area schools, declaring “the anger in Ferguson is not just in reaction to shabby treatment by the police, but also the city’s housing, educational, and other civic institutions.”

For more from Ferguson, the Poynter Institute’s Kristin Hare has assembled a Twitter list of writers who are reporting from the scene. Follow Hare and you’ll see tweets from more than 100 reporters, including details of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s visit with students at a local community college to Moscow students protesting at the US embassy. 

Poynter has offered some interesting and timely resources for reporters, like where to buy gas masks, how to report on unrest, how to report on autopsies, and interviews with reporters who’ve been covering Ferguson. EWA also has resources available on school climate and safety issues, as well as a Reporter Guide to Interviewing Children in the wake of crisis and trauma.

In the meantime, it’s essential that conversations continue – and that students be part of them, said Alexander Cuenca, a professor of social studies education at St. Louis University.

“I think the protests are asking us to not be silent anymore,” Cuenca told the Post-Dispatch. “Teachers want to have the conversations. Students want to have the conversations. Having kids engage in these discussions is crucial for all of us.”


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