We know what happened in Charleston last week. We know that an entire town, an entire city, an entire country is now nine fewer and is in mourning over this horrific tragedy. We know that what happened was an act of racist terrorism. We know that the city and the country have been commendable in their support over the past week. We know that the suspect will likely be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

But how can we try to make sense of this tragedy? How can we learn from it?

These are questions that some folks at the African-American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) have been trying to help us answer, thanks to the creation of this Charleston Syllabus:

“Here is a list of readings that educators can use to broach conversations in the classroom about the horrendous events that unfolded in Charleston, South Carolina on the evening of June 17, 2015. These readings provide valuable information about the history of racial violence in this country and contextualize the history of race relations in South Carolina and the United States in general. They also offer insights on race, racial identities, global white supremacy and black resistance.” (AAIHS)

Conceived by Dr. Chad Williams (@Dr_ChadWilliams) of Brandeis University with the help of Dr. Kidada Williams (@KidadaEWilliams) and organized by AAIHS blogger Dr. Keisha N. Blain (@KeishaBlain) along with others, this #CharlestonSyllabus is a fantastic resource for educators who want to address the events that took place in Charleston in their classrooms, or simply for anyone who wants to learn more.

It is so incredibly important that as educators we aren’t afraid to address sensitive topics in the classroom. Having these discussions helps us accomplish one of the most overarching goals of education: to prepare students to be meaningful contributors to society. Class conversations that are thoughtfully planned out and scaffolded give students a better understanding of real world issues, allow them to practice valuable communication skills, and further develop their critical thinking skills – all traits that are vital to being an involved democratic citizen. By discussing sensitive topics in school, students may be exposed to a diversity of ideas that they might not experience outside of school. Additionally, by avoiding sensitive topics in school, we are sending some extremely powerful messages to kids. Marcus, Metzger, Paxton, and Stoddard (2010) have addressed this, along with the points made above, in depth. They argue, “Not discussing controversial issues sends the message to students that these discussions are taboo, that the political realm is not important, and that there is a natural agreement on what the public good is and how to achieve it” (114).

Viewing the events in Charleston in the context of our country’s history helps us begin to make sense of what happened, giving us a better understanding going forward. History is not merely a thing of the past. Rather, it is alive – it breathes and it bleeds. If you subscribe to this notion then frankly, it would be irresponsible not to talk about important, relevant, and, yes, sensitive topics with your students.

I strongly recommend perusing both the syllabus itself and the hashtag #CharlestonSyllabus on Twitter.


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