What's Happening in Character?

Ferguson—How do you teach when hearts are hurting?

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Wed, Nov 26, 2014 @ 16:11 PM

While the world is watching Ferguson, disturbed by the violence, disturbed by the grand jury’s ruling, disturbed by the very disparate responses that all seem to be colored by race, I was brought back to my teaching roots and empathized with all of the classroom teachers struggling with how to deal with this issue.

As a journalism teacher, I would have been looking for ways to localize the story for my high school students. How do the issues relate to our community? What tensions exist where we live? How do our students feel? What resources can we provide? Giving my students concrete ways to think about problems and to develop solutions was a big part of the real world journalism I tried to instill in my students.

As a teacher of character, I would have been looking for ways to build the peace, for ways to help each side understand the other, to teach empathy, and to brainstorm for solutions.

Now, as the leader of Character.org, I want us to respond. How can we help? Do you have resources and lesson plans you’d like to share? We turned, as we so often do, to Teaching Tolerance. This article, while created in August when the shooting incident first occurred offers lots of good resources. http://www.tolerance.org/blog/students-are-watching-ferguson.  

We offer our guiding 11 Principles as points to return for help in any situation. Principles 1, 2, 3: Focus on your core values. How do they apply in circumstances like those in Ferguson? Principle 5: Focus on opportunities for moral action. What can students do now to help their own communities? Principle 9: Focus on shared leadership. Don’t leave students out of the conversation. What ideas do they have to build a peaceful community that respects differences?

For me the tension in Ferguson is not just a news story; it’s personal. My brother and his family live there. They were planning to host a big family Thanksgiving, but now some relatives are afraid to attend. I grew up in the town next door. I went out to dinner in a Ferguson restaurant when I was in St. Louis this past spring doing site visits for our Schools of Character program. I was struck by how Ferguson was improving itself. I loved the new downtown and the revitalized businesses. So it breaks my heart to see small businesses burned to the ground. It breaks my heart to see the racial tensions escalate. It makes me realize even more how important our mission is.

We have so many Schools of Character in the St. Louis area. I share their pain and would love to hear how they are handling this crisis in their home town. In fact, as the Teaching Tolerance column suggested, the one thing we shouldn’t do is turn away. We need to discuss the situation and learn from it.

Please share your stories with me: becky(at)character.org. How has your classroom or school responded to this news? 

Topics: character, character education, teachers, Ferguson