These are times when being a social studies teacher is important to me.
I was in 7th grade when Rodney King happened. It’s one of the most profound memories I have of social history. I remember the tape of King being beaten, a truck driver being pulled from his vehicle and beaten, and the horrible looting and fighting between police and citizens. Most importantly, I remember the anger between adults. It’s almost the exact same environment as we’re seeing with the current situation in Ferguson.
I’m taking advantage of this situation for a “teachable moment” in my history classroom.
While we haven’t yet begun to visit how to identify bias and where to look for important information, let alone the constructs of our government, it’s still good to observe the way we do things when discussing political, social, and cultural issues in America. There are important conversations to be had about how law enforcement works, how our legal system is structured, how we react to something which angers us, and the always complex and divisive race issues that permeate this, and so many other controversies. Those are conversations to be had at home. They are bigger than the classroom, so parents and children should talk about them.
A few points to learn during this ordeal.
- Read Primary Sources. Get raw information yourself before coming to conclusions. The best citizens are the educated ones that come to their own conclusions. The worse are those that repeat whatever Jon Stewart, Sean Hannity, or Rachel Maddow tell them to think. Here are some examples:
- Testimony from Witnesses: http://apps.stlpublicradio.org/ferguson-project/evidence.html
- The actual testimony from the Grand Jury: https://www.scribd.com/doc/248128351/Darren-Wilson-Testimony
- Photos of the crime scene: https://www.scribd.com/doc/248153256/Michael-Brown-Shooting-Ferguson-Crime-Scene-Photos
- View everything critically. Almost immediately after protests began last night, photos of the unrest began to appear on social media. Some photos were fake, others were from previous riots. (don’t forget we also love to burn things when sports teams win or lose things)
- Stop watching CNN. Stop watching Fox News. Stop watching MSNBC. These stations are horrible, and perpetuate the bias that their owners and investors want them to hold. They are not news stations, but reality TV stations using news to generate viewership. You don’t need them to learn what’s happening. Find reliable news sources on the web and through social media. So, so many exist. I feel strongly about this – they ruin your consumption of news. It’s like trusting McDonald’s for nutrition and health advice.
- Thanksgiving should be interesting this year. This unrest will likely be the center of conversations between your uncles and moms and grandpas… most of it will probably be opinionated and strong. Some of it will be rude and accusatory of police, or law enforcement, or event blanketed statements of how races of people behave. As badly as I want you to ignore it, listen. Learn. Not what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it. How do adults frame their arguments? Do they use evidence? Do they insult the person they are arguing with? Do they use a “straw man” when making a point? How do other adults respond to him/her? So many different ways to interpret all of this, but lots of arguments will be had over turkey and mashed potatoes this week. Don’t learn to avoid arguing. Learn how to converse more effectively. (History Fair work will cover a lot of these techniques next month)
- What’s your solution? No, you probably won’t solve all these problems yourself, but have a solution-oriented mindset. If you don’t, you’re just recycling complaints and observations with no purpose. What’s the solution? How can we prevent police officers from being in a position like this? How do we better protect our young people? How do we respond to frustrating situations.
What is happening in Ferguson is awful. But how do we stop the next one? How do we become better citizens? How does our nation – or our own worldview – evolve?