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Ferguson: Say One Thing

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This blog ordinarily focuses on educational policy. In it, I try to address key issues around which there is a great deal of polarizing rhetoric.

The recent crisis in Ferguson, Missouri is not obviously an educational issue, and insofar as that is the case, I had not planned to address it. Yet it affects students, teachers, administrators, and families—because we cannot help but bring our out-of-school lives into school with us. Additionally, the issue has proven to be so polarizing that many educators are no doubt stepping cautiously around it, hoping to avoid being drawn into controversy. 

So, despite my limited wisdom and authority, I am writing this post to offer teachers a very simple piece of advice about rhetoric and education.

I have my own beliefs about the Ferguson tragedy, as well as about what failed to happen in its wake. As do many teachers at the K-12 and college levels. But despite their strong feelings, many educators feel that they must keep their beliefs hidden from their students. 

But we must not say nothing. We must not do nothing. Because failure to speak and act is itself a message.

Students of color are surrounded by messages that simply do not affect their white peers. In words and deeds, they are told what they are worth. As such, however the white community feels about the facts of the Ferguson case isn't really relevant in the educational context. What matters is how the students most deeply affected by this—our students of color—are feeling (which, we might recall, is just a more visible version of how they are almost always feeling). And in our silence as educators, we tell them that we are not troubled by this. Our inaction during this flashpoint tells them that we would like to quietly retreat to a world before the protests—when unrest simmered just below the surface, out of our sight.

So if you can say only a little, say one thing. Because that one thing—whatever it is—is the dividing line between saying nothing and saying something.

That's certainly not all that one should do. One costless utterance is about as insufficient as insufficient gets. It isn't anything at all. But it also isn't nothing.

To my students of color, past and present: I see you. And each day I work to see you even better. So that I can stand in firmer solidarity.

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