A Year of Racial Tumult Brings Potent Lessons — and Risks — to the Classroom

Historians in the News
tags: racism, Ferguson



For scholars of African-American studies, the police killings of unarmed black men in several cities over the past year have been personally searing and unusually powerful pedagogically.

"It’s tragic and terrible that these things keep happening," said Amani T. Marshall, a lecturer in history at Georgia State University, "but as a historian and a teacher, it makes my job so easy."

But making educational use of high-profile events in the news can also present pitfalls. Students can respond unpredictably, derailing class discussions. Faculty members often find they’ve let loose a flood of contradictory feelings in their students that they must expertly guide. Many professors of color must cope with similar emotions themselves....

Each new event has forced scholars to make pedagogical choices. Some have made the incidents the explicit topics of a new lesson or course; others have used them as entry points to teach previously existing material.

A team of professors at Pennsylvania State University took the explicit route. This past spring they offered a one-credit course, "The Fire This Time — Understanding Ferguson." Many of the 60 students in the five-week session enrolled because they wanted to make sense of a topic that was generating far more heat than light, said Courtney Desiree Morris, an assistant professor of African-American studies....




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