Teaching Ferguson

Protest over death of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson

Rebecca Schuman explores the ways colleges have brought “living history” into the classroom:

The desire among professors and students to explore the context of the Brown shooting has resulted in an informal nationwide movement, in fact, loosely gathered under the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus (begun by Georgetown professor Marcia Chatelain). Participants from a variety of disciplines have offered articles, books, blog posts, videos, and more to help teachers help their students understand what is happening here.

This “syllabus” is certainly far removed from the esoteric fare your average freshman encounters—sure, The Epic of Gilgamesh and drosophila flies are important, but their immediate relevance to 18-year-olds is often a bit of a stretch. The events of Ferguson—and, more broadly, the workings of the U.S. criminal justice system, and the racial and economic segregation of our cities—are, on the other hand, palpable around them now. To transform the needless death of a young man to a “teachable moment” may feel heartless, but that doesn’t mean our students shouldn’t learn from it. In fact, they’re eager to.

(Photo: Police forces in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, on August 17, 2014. By Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)