On Ferguson: Voices from our Future

I began a blog post this morning about Ferguson:

The grand jury reached a decision in the Michael Brown case. The police officer who killed him gets to walk free.

I had to pry myself off the Ferguson hashtag a few minutes ago because I was feeling sick. Not only did this injustice occur (again), someone got off scott-free (again).

Frustrated, I stopped my writing there.  I have blogged about this topic before, and felt like it was pointless to do so again.  There was nothing new that I could say that would fix anything.  It was an exercise in futility.  Dejected, I prepared for work.

On the daily commute, I vented a bit to one of my Voxer groups.  In talking to members of my PLN, the idea struck me to have my eighth-grade students blog about their thoughts collectively, for multiple reasons:

  • To allow my students space to process and vent on an important issue.
  • To raise awareness about current events.
  • To help them review their argumentative writing skills.
  • To empower them, and give them a voice.
  • To bring relevance to the class.

One of my edu-buddies suggested that I let them each claim a slide in a Google Presentation.  I decided to let students choose which they preferred, since so many of them were huge fans of blogging (as uncovered in our first quarter evaluation), but may prefer to do a slide.

We began the class with our usual Tuesday morning warm-up, and class opening routine.  Afterwards, I told them that we would take a detour from our scheduled poetry activity for today, if this was alright with them.  They were very curious, and agreed.

I began by asking students what national headlines they heard about this week.  In both classes, the first response was the verdict of the Michael Brown case.  Then, I asked students to share their initial reactions.  There were scattered responses at this time, because a few students were not up to speed.  We watched a video from CNN, detailing the current situation in Ferguson, post-verdict.  Afterwards, students again shared their reactions.

Finally, I relayed to my students what a teacher friend, living in Ferguson, had shared with me on Voxer that morning, regarding events in her city.  The students said that it sounded like a terrifying situation.  For full disclosure, I explicity stated my personal thoughts, but emphasized that they were just my opinion.  Students were entitled (and encouraged) to share their own, even if they differed from mine or anyone else’s.

After our discussion, we then went to work:

Here is what students had to say.  I have not included names, to protect the identities of my students.  Although no one had an objection to standing by their opinions, I am choosing to keep them anonymous because of their status as minors, and the controversial nature of this topic.

Note: I have taken excerpts from students’ reflections.  My only modifications were grammatical errors, etc.  The views reflected below are those of my students, and not necessarily my own.  

The Google Document/Blog
  • “I feel sad for the family and friends of Michael Brown and I give you my condolences. I hope things get better and r.i.p.  I also think that there was a need of more evidence being collected before the court made a final decision.”
  • “Honestly, I think that this situation is just irrelevant. This is just repeating what happened to Trayvon Martin and it shows that it’s never going to stop. I think that the police should go to jail for what they did and they should not be let off the hook for that. I also believe that they shouldn’t have set buildings on fire. They could have handled that better.”
  • “I think they are just trying to do that because of what happened to Travon Martin.”
  • “I think that it isn’t fair at all what they did. I feel like the Pledge of Alleigance has no meaning, ‘justice for all.’ Michael Brown and his family didn’t receive justice. I feel as if that rule only applies to Whites. This isn’t the first time this happened and it will happen more, I’m sure.”
  • “I think that the people have overreacted. Yes, I understand that this did not seem right and that you guys are mad but setting houses ablaze and breaking into stores was not the best.”
  • “I think…the court was setting him up so [Darren Wilson] won’t go to jail.”
  • “I think that this whole thing is crazy. It’s making people depressed, and miserable. People are tired of this happening over and over again so they decide to take matters in their own hands. But, what they fail to realize is that they’re going about it the wrong way.”
  • “Well, I think that a whole chunk-a-people…are still living in the past, the horrible past that we all had to suffer. I thought it would be over by now…I guess not. We are all equals. No one is better than another. At the end of the day, we all have bones. And blood. And hair…most of us. What I am trying to say…The jury was totally biased.”
The Google Presentation

Students had varied opinions, as we all do.  I was so proud of them for their hard work, and thoughtful insights, no matter what they believe.  As I told them in class, we may feel helpless as individuals, but as a group, we have power.  I hope they keep this in mind for the future.

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