Teaching #Ferguson

In the wake of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, many of us are trying to make sense of how to come back to school and engage our students around #Ferguson. It’s not easy. In some communities, there’ve been significant efforts to defend the police, including raising money for #DarrenWilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown; in fact, some argue that more money has been raised for Wilson than for the family of Michael Brown (others believe this to be the result of false counting – Wilson has one account to collect donations, Michael Brown and the #Ferguson movement have involved many possible points of donation.

For me, however, the events in Ferguson aren’t controversial. They aren’t a political topic to be avoided. They are fundamentally about the degree to which some of my students feel safe in my classroom, my institution, and the world. They are about how my students feel welcomed and cared for, about their place in this society. And though it isn’t (mostly) my experience with the police – at least in part because I am white – many of my friends, colleagues, and students traverse a war zone on the way to school or work; they face the constant possibility that they too could end up like Kajieme Powell, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Kenneth Chamberlain, Kimani Gray, or Trayvon Martin. In the least, they face potential harassment or assault – like this 8 year old girl. It’s clear that it doesn’t matter whether you are poor or rich, young or old, armed or unarmed – it is more dangerous to be a person of color in this country than it is to be me, than it is to be perceived as white.

My students enter my classroom knowing this, walking through it, experiencing it every day. It isn’t a “political topic” to be avoided; avoiding it is a choice to be silent about circumstances that are continuing to harm our students. So I think we are obligated to teach about it. The question is how. Part of it involves changing how we teach – making more space and a better invitation into our classrooms. It involves choosing to engage conversation, even when its hard, rather than ignore it because it seems controversial. Part of it needs to involve changing our institutions, making them more inclusive and more oriented toward justice. Another part of it also involves what we teach.

Discussion and engagement around this list by Sociologists for Justice (annotated here) can help students understand the deeper issues behind events like those in Ferguson. Any of the articles will do. I wish, though, that they were open access. There are loads of open resources though. Have your students check out the Dream Defenders and listen to their campaign. Invite them to read Janee Woods’ Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder, Rebecca Carroll’s Why are white people scared of black people’s rage at Mike Brown’s death?, and Mia Makenzie’s Things to Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By The Police.

And get them involved long term. If they aren’t already, get them hooked on blogs like Black Youth ProjectFor HarrietBlack Girl Dangerous and a thousand others that move them out of the mainstream news and into news that better represents the views and experiences of black people and people of color generally in the United States.

Your students–all of your students–need you to engage around this issue. Silence is alliance with the kinds of attitudes and thoughts that are killing them.

Key Concepts for Doing Social Work in the Digital Age

On August 22, 2014, I will present a workshop at CEUs on a Stick! in Saint Paul, Minnesota that introduces participants to thinking about the Open movement in social work and social services administration. Many new and potentially confusing (and also just generally complex) terms and concepts are a part of such a workshop. Introducing them in such a way that participants feel included and empowered is going to be a challenge.

In the course of planning the workshop, I decided I’d rather have participants do some reading and processing on their own toward the beginning of the workshop (we aren’t to provide pre-workshop materials), and then to share their learning with the rest of the group. I think this will be a much better way “in” to some of these difficult concepts. So we’ll do a jigsaw. Participants will enter the room and have the sets of articles below available to them to browse. Hopefully I can convince people to choose diversely between these areas. Then we can process these ideas together.

My hope for the workshop is to invite people into what Ilene Alexander calls being a liminal participant – someone in an in-between state, about to move in one direction or the other into new knowledge and understanding. I think many of us in Social Work and Social Services have learned to be intimidated by technology. It’s “too much” when there are so many other important issues to consider. Whether we like it or not, it’s moving in ways that we can’t ignore (and shouldn’t have been). For our benefit and that of those we serve, we need to get past our defenses and sense of intimidation. At least to start, to move into a space where learning is possible. I get to do a post-assessment for the workshop. I’m considering whether I can do a pre- and post-assessment that will give me clues toward threshold concepts for learning about Data and Research in the Digital Age. Knowing these threshold concepts would help plan future workshops.

As a note for the future, I’d also like to invite other folks to participate who feel like “skilled orienteers” – past participants, perhaps – who feel confident in these topics and also have an orientation toward learning and teaching. Having these folks around might help bolster everyone’s confidence in learning.

Open Source, Open Access, Open Data

Big Data, Data Mining, Macroanalysis, Data Exhaust, and Digital Afterlife

Cognitive Justice, Popular Technology

Human-Centered / Activity-Centered Design (facts don’t matter, it’s assertions!)

What resources do you have to recommend? Any major areas you think should be here?