Uncovered: How academics are teaching Ferguson, Baltimore with a Google Doc
College professors, high school teachers, a Department of Defense employee, education consultants for the Library of Congress, and a CEO of . Those are just a handful of the academics who have been collaborating on a widely shared Google Doc, obtained by Campus Reform, full of lesson plans and other resources to tell their preferred narrative of the deaths of black males in Ferguson and Baltimore, among other places.
The resources and lesson plans, broken down in further detail, range from memorials for Michael Brown, to drawing comparisons between today’s rioters and the American patriots who took part in the Boston Tea Party.
And it all started with a hashtag.
The #FergusonSyllabus hashtag began in the aftermath of the protests in Ferguson, Mo., last year when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed in a confrontation with police officer Darren Wilson. Georgetown Professor Dr. Marcia Chatelain created the hashtag “to recommend texts, collaborate on conversation starters, and inspire dialogue about some aspect of the Ferguson crisis” for academics on the social networking site.
But it didn’t take long before the Ferguson syllabus grew from just a conversation on Twitter to a shared document among more than 400 academics, scholars, business owners, and teachers. Texas Women’s University professor Dr. Dan Krutka created the Google Document, titled Teaching #Ferguson Resources.”
In an email to Campus Reform, Krutka confirmed he began the shared project.
“Some social studies teachers on Twitter wanted to discuss how to address Ferguson in their classrooms and so I created a crowdsourced document to help them do so,” Krutka said. “I haven't [done] a lot with the document beyond that.”
“This document includes three sections: resources for learning about Ferguson, resources for learning about the historical backdrop to Ferguson, and a new section on how our attempts to engage and teach on these topics have gone,” Krutka, who is an assistant professor of teacher education, explained in the document.
Collaborators often signed their edits and suggestions with their Twitter handles.
Pam Moran, the Superintendent for the Albemarle County (Virginia) Public School system, put forth a lesson plan for use in high schools, titled “What Happened in Ferguson and Why.” The lesson plan begins with the instructions for teachers to “ask students to take a minute of silence for the 18-year-old Michael Brown.” The plan then involves student discussions of various excerpts from articles, such as:
“There’s a crisis all right. But Ferguson is not its heart so much as a capillary finally burst,” Moran wrote in the lesson plan. “That many find the sadness and rage in Ferguson more needing of explanation than the militarized response is particularly telling.”
On the collegiate level, Texas A&M English professor Amy Earhart recommended incorporating an article on Malcolm X in classroom discussions. The article, Earhart says in the Google Doc, is “[u]seful for showing how police violence against African-Americans is often a flash point for revolutionary change.”
In the article, titled “5 Ways to Teach About Michael Brown and Ferguson in the New School Year,” Emdin recommended writing letters “to the deceased” and asking students to create “a memorial to Michael Brown on a classroom bulletin board. This activity involves having students use whatever they feel skilled in to create something that would honor Michael Brown.”
Johnson claimed these tactics are useful because it can help “establish norms with young people and set the appropriate tone for the school year.”
Melissa Adams, who identified herself as a fifth-grade teacher, suggested incorporating a child-friendly version of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Furthermore, Adams said, this exercise “[w]ould go well with a reading of the Black Panther Party’s 10 Point Platform.”
The Black Panther Party’s 10-point platform includes demands such as: “We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the White American businessmen will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community.”
“We believe that Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us,” another demand states.
Dr. Carol Tilley, an associate professor in the University of Illinois system, recommended using The History of White People as a resource for educating both teachers and high school students. The History of White People, according to its Amazon page, “ forcefully reminds us that the concept of ‘race’ is an all-too-human invention.”
However, the contributors to the Google Doc consist of more than just teachers and professors.
Maxine Clark, the founder and CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop, contributed to the recommended curriculum as well. In the Google Doc, Clark advised using an article written by a white male that compared the use of transportation to racial background for its “additional perspective on white privilege."
The document also provides space for educators who have already used these (or similar) lessons in their classroom to report their experiences using the suggested materials.
Michael Kaechele, a history teacher at a Michigan public high school, reported the successful implementation of a lesson from the Google Doc. The lesson utilized a picture comparing rioters in Ferguson to the colonials who took part in the Boston Tea Party. Kaechele’s lesson involved having students compare and contrast the two events.
Hilarie Ashton, an instructor at Queens College in New York, last reported as having a similar project about the Baltimore riots currently in progress.
Although the document first sprang up in August 2014, the group of educators has consistently added more resources and information as time has gone by. In April 2015 alone, the document was updated 18 times.
And, like the volume of resources, the number of collaborators has swelled over time.
At time of publication, more than 420 different email addresses were listed as “collaborators” on the document. Several emails are official school emails.
In addition to the educators named above, listed collaborators include (but certainly isn’t limited to) educators using their official email addresses from San Francisco State University, the University of Redlands, and the University of California Santa Cruz.
North Carolina State University led all public universities with four faculty and staff members among the listed collaborators. All four NCSU collaborators, Marcie Myers Fisher-Borne, Crystal Hayes, Hannah Ross Allison, and Barbara A. Zelter taught in NCSU’s Social Work Program. Of the four collaborators, only Zelter will be returning to NCSU in the fall.
The influence the collaborative document possesses extends beyond its own web of educators. The DC Public School System included the collaborative document in its official “teacher guide” for “Preparing to Teach Michael Brown In the Classroom.”
Kent State Professor Todd Hawley has led his own group of educators in constructing a similar document specifically for use in Ohio classrooms. Hawley’s document, however, has stricter privacy settings than Professor Krutka’s, restricting the ability of the public to see who has collaborated on the curriculum.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @peterjhasson