What Do We Teach About Ferguson, MO?

I want to thank the brilliant educator and activist Christopher Lehmann (yes we share nearly the same name – he just has one too many Ns…) for the nudge this afternoon to write about my feelings on this topic.  When tragedies like these happen I sometimes find it hard to find the right words, but he reminded me how important it is to share our perspectives, how it matters for the educators we are lucky to call our community and for the children we serve. So thank you, Chris. I needed to be reminded that my voice matters, just like all of our voices matter.


What Do We Teach About Ferguson, MO?

My first draft of this letter was an angry one. Mostly at myself. While the unarmed Mike Brown’s shooting death by the hands of an armed police officer hit me, I also have started to build a pretty hard callus over the part of my heart that aches for young black men dying in our country. It hurts every time, yet I grow bitter that solutions may never come to this national tragedy. I see the lack of government movement, or even care, and feel hopeless.

What I began writing was that I was angry with myself that it took an utterly outrageous scene of mostly white police using excessive force against a mostly black population to snap me back to reality. Shouldn’t I be as outraged over one young black man’s death by an officer as I am over a scene of neighborhoods be covered with tear gas?

Then I came to this: what I know I want to teach about Ferguson.

We do need to talk about what is hopeless. And there is so much to feel hopeless about.

Mike Brown is one of many young black and minority and poor men who die daily in our country from violence–whether from police or from one another. Our prisons are filled with young black, minority, and poor men and our colleges are not. There is so much bad that it is overwhelming. Our national callus grows because to allow oneself to live with the gravity of this reality can feel so hopeless.

We do need to talk about what is hopeless because to not do so is to act as if it is not there.

What I want to teach about Ferguson, though, is not teargas.

What I want to teach about Ferguson is hope. Hope embodied in the people who chose to line up alone the road every day from the day Mike Brown was killed and make themselves seen. There may be reasons yet unknown for why the police violence and journalist blackout spread last night, but one of them most certainly was the desire to silence people who refused to be silenced. Likely even to silence the voices of the black men, women and children and those who stood beside them on those roads. What I want to teach is their story.

Megaphones came out to stop their stories from being told. But they stood.

Then arrests came out to stop their stories from being told. But they stood.

Then riot gear and guns came out to stop their stories from being told. But they stood.

Then teargas and tanks came out to stop their stories from being told. And we all stood.


This to me is an essential lesson. Do not be silenced.


I think we too often feel hopeless because we feel there is little any one of us can say or do to make a difference. So then we stop saying anything at all.

What we must teach our children, and each other, is that standing up to tell the story is the most critical step. Saying the wrong you see or feel is the beginning. When you stand, you invite others to stand, too.

Talk about what feels hopeless. Then, teach towards hope.



Conversations with My Son Regarding the Mike Brown Murder

What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying? #MichaelBrown

When Can We Talk About Race? (Michael + Trayvon + Renisha + …)



4 thoughts on “What Do We Teach About Ferguson, MO?

  1. Thank you for this post and tweets following this. It’s so upsetting. I want to bring this up with my 6th graders when we shift our focus to the history of civil rights in our nation. How would you broach such a sensitive topic with middle schoolers?

  2. Chris, I appreciate your hopeful outlook in the midst of such tragedy. I have two daughters working for justice, one as a public defender and the other as a social worker. They have chosen to make a difference. My hope is that they will not give in to the hopelessness that often clouds us when we get older.

  3. Thanks for this thoughtful and hopeful post, Chris. Much needed in these sad and horrifying days. Charles Blow wrote an excellent op ed piece in today’s NYT, too.


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