As events in Ferguson continue to unfold, The Leadership Program recognizes the importance of having conversations with our students about issues of race, oppression, and inequality. These conversations are typically difficult to navigate; we wanted to provide potential guides for having those conversations.

The following originally appeared on the PBS NEWSHOUR website and may be seen in its entirety here.

As the contents were written in late August, they do not directly address the events of November 24th. Additionally, The Leadership Program did not write it, and Dr. Chatelain syllabus is, self admittedly, an organic one. However, TLP still believes many of the talking points to be relative for classroom discussions very likely to continue in the coming days and weeks.

Additionally, The New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) has provided organizations with additional information, which may be found below.

How to Talk to Students about Ferguson

BY DR. MARCIA CHATELAIN August 29, 2014 at 10:48 AM EST

I watched the unrest in Ferguson unfold while preparing for the start of a new academic year and began to think about the various ways I could talk about the crisis with my students. That’s how #FergusonSyllabus was born.

As I shared more resources, I found that educators from the early childhood level to those who work with adult learners were all searching for material to use to make a tragic moment more meaningful. As in any online conversation, detractors emerged to argue that it is too difficult, too controversial, or too hasty to talk about Ferguson with students. I remain firm that with some preparation and thoughtfulness, you can effectively help students answer their questions and address their fears associated with Ferguson. A collection of teacher-recommended materials and teaching strategies are gathered in this collaborative online document. Here are some tips:

Pre-K-Grade 4
For younger children who may or may not be aware of the scope of Ferguson, I recommend engaging them in identifying and being comfortable with emotions like anxiety, fear, anger and disappointment. The #FergusonSyllabus includes a number of children’s books about sudden change and national events as well as conflict. Although parents may shield their small children from media, they still may sense that adults are uneasy or preoccupied around them. At this age, it is also important to reinforce the value of maintaining relationships across racial, ethnic and cultural differences.

Grades 5-8
For junior high students who may be more aware of the details involving Ferguson, more honest conversations about race are appropriate. These conversations can be framed in terms of America’s racial history and can emphasize what has changed and what remains a challenge. The Ferguson crisis is also an excellent way of introducing students to the principles of governance, public servants and leadership challenges.

High school
High school students undoubtedly will have very strong feelings about Ferguson, and they are equipped to address broader philosophical questions about the nature of protest, the social contract and ethical leadership. Students may become distracted by debating right versus wrong or emphasizing sides in talking about Ferguson; in this instance, teachers could provide open forum spaces for students to share their own experiences of racism, discrimination and injustice. Using that conversation, teachers can then ask students to imagine how to be good citizens and leaders in their own community.

College and beyond
At this level, I recommend educators focus on the structural problems Ferguson brings to the forefront. The #FergusonSyllabus includes interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work that can help students understand many dimensions and facets of Ferguson. Additionally, colleagues working across academic disciplines to incorporate Ferguson into their teaching can demonstrate how scholars can work together to address social issues.

Regardless of where and how you teach, I hope you consider accepting the challenge of helping students understand how to be better citizens and to better to each other.

Dr. Marcia Chatelain is Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown University, where she researches African-American history.


In light of yesterday’s grand jury decision in the case in Ferguson, Missouri, questions may arise in school and afterschool programs. There are a host of resources available for teaching about Ferguson that may be helpful to review in preparation, and the following are just a small selection of these free resources.

Suggestions for Discussing the News from Ferguson
– Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. An activity idea and links to other resources regarding the case.

          The Death of Michael Brown: Teaching About Ferguson – The Learning Network, The New York Times. Activity suggestions, an overview of what happened, and a compilation of other resources from educators.

          How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson – The Atlantic. A compilation of many suggested resources from educators.

          Do’s and Don’ts for Teaching About Ferguson – The Root. Suggestions for teaching with links to other resources.

          Teaching About Ferguson – Teaching for Change. Resources on topics related to the case, such as policy brutality and housing inequality.

          Teaching Ideas for #Ferguson #MichaelBrown – Larry Ferlazzo EduBlogs. A compilation of selected resources and teaching ideas shared on Twitter.

Alli Lidie

Policy and Communications Coordinator | White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellow

New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN)

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