School district defends decision to ban discussion of Michael Brown shooting

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Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of the great American experiment, but don’t tell that to the superintendent of an Illinois school district who banned any discussion of the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The unarmed black man was killed early this month in Ferguson, Mo., by a white police officer, resulting in days of civil unrest, and Superintendent Ed Hightower of Edwardsville District 7 Schools directed teachers not to discuss the topic in the classroom, KMOX-TV reported.

Hightower said district 7 schools normally discuss current events, according to the local CBS affiliate.

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“However, this situation in Ferguson-Florissant has become a situation whereby there are so many facts that are unknown,” he said.

Not only are teachers not to discuss the matter, but have also been told that if students bring it up, they should change the subject, KMOX reported.

The ban raised eyebrows and The Telegraph reported that Hightower sent a letter home to parents saying there had been complaints about some teachers interjecting personal opinions on Brown’s death in the classroom.

“We felt it was important to take the time to calm a potential situation at the high school and to prepare administrators and teachers to approach this critical issue in an objective, fact-based manner,” he wrote. “Everyone has an opinion — the sharing of which can be polarizing. Far too many facts remain unknown, and without these facts, none of us is in the best position to moderate between opposing views.”

The letter said steps have been taken toward establishing a constructive framework for discussing the incident.

In an editorial published in the Washington Post, one veteran teacher believes the ban leads to a missed opportunity to learn from the incident.

“A teacher needs to know the students, the community, and have the skills and sense to manage whatever is about to replace the regular lesson,” David B. Cohen wrote. “But certainly, if we place the lesson plan ahead of significant moments in our communal life, we not only rob students of a chance to learn something more lasting and potentially important, but we also unwittingly reinforce the oft-heard but incorrect message that school is separate from ‘the real world.’”

Although, by today’s standards, the chances of having a teacher with the skills to “manage” a potentially volatile discussion is hit or miss. And the introduction of “the real world” into the classroom is often predisposed by the political ideology of the teacher in question.

What are your thoughts? Is school the right place to have discussions of this nature, and if so, do you trust your child’s teachers to ensure the conversation is fair and balanced?

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