Ferguson shooting spurs curriculum advocates to craft lesson on race

Even though the police shooting of an unarmed man in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is only weeks old and a grand jury is still trying sort out what really happened, a Washington-based nonprofit is offering a classroom lesson plan that draws a link between the incident and the revolutionary rhetoric of the 1960s Black Panther Party.

Teaching for Change says its “Teaching about Ferguson” guide can help students think critically about the shooting of Michael Brown in an Aug. 9 confrontation with police and ways they can be proactive in their own communities.

“The Black Panther Party’s 1966 platform, known as the 10-point program, included the demand: ‘We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people, other people of color, and all oppressed people inside the United States,’” the group’s Julian Hipkins III wrote.

“The issue of police brutality in communities of color has a long history and the Panther platform gives an example of how to turn grievances into a clear set of goals for meaningful change,” he said. The issue was first reported by education watchdog EAG News.

The shooting of Brown, 18, prompted several nights of angry protests near the spot where he was killed. Local police responded to those protests with tear gas, smoke canisters, and the use of surplus military equipment, including tanks. Some public officials and others called that response heavy-handed. Eventually, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called in the National Guard to restore order.

Brown was buried Monday after hundreds attended his funeral at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church. A St. Louis County grand jury began reviewing evidence last week.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch said it could take the grand jury until mid-October to hear all evidence.

“As the new school year begins, first and foremost on our minds and in our hearts will be the killing of Michael Brown,” Hipkins wrote. “Teachers may be faced with students’ anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, and questions. Some students will wonder how this could happen in the United States.”

Hipkins said his group’s lesson plan will introduce students to the history of the Black Panther movement and invite them to create their own list of demands. Huey Newton and other Panther leaders created the demands as the basis of the group’s radical, and sometimes violent, philosophy.

Hipkins and Teaching for Change included another topic for discussion in the lesson plan. It involved having students watch a video of Malcolm X accusing the United States of human rights violations against blacks and calling for a United Nations investigation.

“Indeed, the U.S. government is quick to condemn human rights violations in other countries, but does not expect to be accountable to the world for actions within its borders,” he wrote.

The lesson plan's other areas of discussion include “History of Racism,” “Militarization of the Police” and “Student Fear and Resilience.”

Administrators for the public school system in Washington D.C. took a less controversial approach, distributing new guidance to teachers on how to talk about Ferguson in the classroom.

“While the facts of the case are still being sorted out by those in the criminal justice system, these events are teachable moments in classrooms across the District of Columbia Schools,” the school system said in a five-page teacher’s guide, “Preparing to Discuss Michael Brown in the Classroom.”

“If you are going to discuss the killing of Michael Brown, content questions might be: Who was Michael Brown? Where did he grow up? Why was he in Ferguson? These questions are important, but questions such as Why do you believe the police shot him? And how should communities react to this tragedy? Push students to make connections beyond one news story and lead to a more complex understanding of the situation,” DC Schools said.

While Washington schools weren’t shying away from the shooting, that wasn’t the case in Edwardsville, an Illinois school district 25 miles from Ferguson, . Teachers there were being told to avoid the subject altogether.

Superintended Ed Hightower told KMOX News that if students bring up the shooting in class, teachers have been told to change the subject.

Hightower told the station Ferguson wasn’t open for discussion because the shooting “has become a situation whereby there are so many facts that are unknown.”