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School district bans classroom discussion on Michael Brown, Ferguson

Michael Brown, on March 4, 2014. (Photo by Elcardo Anthony )

The superintendent of a school district in Illinois has issued a directive banning any discussion in classrooms of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen killed Aug. 9 by a white police officer, or the civil unrest that followed in Ferguson, Mo.

KMOX-TV reports that Superintendent Ed Hightower of Edwardsville District 7 Schools made the decision after some parents complained that some teachers were expressing personal opinions during discussions with students in their classrooms. The station report says:

Superintendent Ed Hightower says normally there would be an open discussion of current events.
“However, this situation in Ferguson-Florissant has become a situation whereby there are so many facts that are unknown,” he says.
He says teachers have been told not to discuss it and if students bring it up, they should change the subject.

Other educators have taken the opposite position, saying that teachers should not ignore the events in Ferguson and should find developmentally appropriate ways to talk about it. For example, in this post, veteran teacher David B. Cohen says:

What do we do in school communities when events of historic proportion take place? Or overwhelm us? What do we do when our communities are in grip of trauma, fear, or grief? How many ways are we willing to define, or redefine, “our community”?
I think we have to be willing to toss out the lesson plan, or revise it. This must be done thoughtfully and advisedly, of course. A teacher needs to know the students, the community, and have the skills and sense to manage whatever is about to replace the regular lesson. But certainly, if we place the lesson plan ahead of significant moments in our communal life, we not only rob students of a chance to learn something more lasting and potentially important, but we also unwittingly reinforce the oft-heard but incorrect message that school is separate from “the real world.”

There is something chilling about learning that a teacher is supposed to change the subject when a student asks about an important current event. School isn’t supposed to just be about taking tests.