I’ve been wondering for some time now about if and how the Trayvon Martin case is being discussed in your classes and by your students. My intention isn’t to debate the details of the incident here, but rather to find out what kids are thinking and asking about it, and how you’ve addressed their interests or concerns in your history classes. To what extent is this motivating students to talk about their own feelings and experiences related to race? Are they talking about the media response, or about the legal system or self-defense laws? And how have you or how has your school facilitated these conversations? When the case is discussed in reference to Emmett Till, even if the authors admit direct parallels can or should not be made, how are history teachers helping their kids make sense of it? I’d be interested to know what’s happening, and also to use this as a prompt for dialogue between those who are interested in talking about this topic with their students but have had trouble knowing if or how to begin or conduct the conversation and those who have already done so with their kids.
On a personal note, I was in sixth grade during the LA riots and in high school during the OJ Simpson trial, and I can recall only a general feeling that the primary interest of school administrators was to prevent any possible violence related to those events (especially the OJ trial), but I don’t remember any particular efforts to help us understand those current events and the coverage of them or to promote dialogue, though we students were very much aware of them, and might have benefitted from being able to talk about the events in the safe space of a classroom. On the other hand, I wonder if there are those in the group who think perhaps events such as these are better left to parents and community leaders to discuss with kids--what do you think?
If you are looking for resources, the New York Times Learning Network has some teaching suggestions and a guest post by a teenager, with room for comment by students. Anderson Cooper is also featuring a report on kids and race tonight. The Huffington Post has also featured a few posts on this story by teachers, including this call to action.
I look forward to your responses.
National Museum of American History
I'm not a teacher either, but I was in high school in Richmond VA when four students were shot at Kent State. There were no official remarks from our school administration about it, but for the next three days we got nothing done in our English class as students debated the whole situation. It's interesting to look back and realize how much the students parroted parents and/or media in their remarks.
Before that, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, it was another English teacher that inspired discussion. He actually took it harder than the students, many of whom were wondering what all the fuss was about.
I thank those teachers, because parents are ill-equipped to discuss these types of events with any objectivity. Note my comment in the first paragraph.
I found a few more resources that I thought might be useful for anyone thinking about talking with students about the case. Here you'll find an article from Education Week about suggestions for history and civics connections to the case, and a word of caution (and a call to action) from the Director of Teaching Tolerance about how one approaches the topic.