December 2014
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Day 01/12/2014

Education for [ whole humans ] : How to talk about Ferguson. How to teach about race.

In the wake of the controversial events of the past week and in light of my recent post on social emotional learning, I think it is important to discuss how we educate children about race, inequality, prejudice, and justice.

A demonstrator sits in front of a debris fire in Ferguson. Stephen Lam / Reuters

A demonstrator sits in front of a debris fire in Ferguson. Stephen Lam / Reuters


Professor Christopher Emdin, from Teachers College, wrote an article back in August on how to teach about Michael Brown and Ferguson. Christopher Emdin specializes in “urban education”, and I have blogged some of Dr. Emdin’s wisdom before. In this article, he suggests beginning with what students know and to then help them to unearth the facts and fiction in media coverage as well as explore why there are different angles to how the story is covered. Next, he suggests having students make connections between this and other similar cases – such as Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. Then, he calls for activism, which I believe is an important step in empowering students in the face of a situation that can create feelings of helplessness. Students can write letters to politicians, to the families of the victims, to police officers.

In a broader context, I also urge teachers and parents to begin talking about prejudice and race earlier. To ignore the fact that race matters in our country won’t solve the multitude of problems that exist today. These conversations are relevant for students from all backgrounds, and I’d argue they are particularly important for students from predominantly White neighborhoods.

One great way of educating about issues of race is to use literature. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader, so I am a huge advocate of learning through good fiction. My thanksgiving break read – Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- is an eye-opening story about a Nigerian woman’s experiences in America and explains how race, culture, and identity play huge roles in one person’s life. By taking the protagonist’s perspective, one is able to better understand how identity works in American society.


Ultimately, I am a firm believer in the idea that students should feel safe to investigate how prejudice and racism in our culture have affected their own behaviors and thoughts in order to begin to change these behaviors and thoughts. Much of modern racism is not blatant – it is subtle – and it is sometimes unintentional or unconscious. But unless people are open to understanding how prejudice works, we cannot end the cycle. Having grown up in a very White community until I was 18 years old, I spent much of college dealing with my own internal and unconscious prejudices and stereotypes and trying to understand how they emerged and how to combat them.

How do you educate your students about issues of culture, identity, and diversity? Have you talked about Michael Brown in your classroom?

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