Some teachers hesitant to discuss controversial race issues in class

Anissa Ypon, Staff Writer

For several months, students watched newsfeeds of alleged police brutality and the resulting protests all over social media — but rarely was this topic discussed in class.  Oftentimes, teachers and staff chose to refrain from sharing personal opinions about controversial issues for fear of offending particular students or subjecting themselves to having to defend their opinions.

However, many students have agreed that as tensions rose in Ferguson, they felt that the issue would have been appropriate to discuss in class if approached in a respectful manner.

“Avoiding the subject doesn’t really help the matter,” senior Lawrence Nguyen said. “If people don’t understand what was done, we wouldn’t know how to handle this situation.”

Students’ awareness of current events is usually limited to snippets of information on social media sites that could be highly inaccurate or biased without their knowledge.  With updates that may be false or incomplete, opinions may develop through ignorance.

Teachers and staff may feel that conversing about alleged police brutality is too controversial because of students’ lack of prior knowledge, the complexity of the situation itself, or the emotions it may evoke.

“These social problems happened in the past and will happen again in a different form,” Bear Creek counselor Lee Vue said. “If I were a political science teacher I’d have more insight and be comfortable talking about it.”

Many have said they would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss the controversial issue in class, saying that being educated on controversial issues is critical to their education.

“I think it’s okay to share our opinions because it’s definitely something we should be aware of,” junior Mason Aguila said.

These confrontations between police and someone of the community are very relevant to students no matter how distant they may feel from the problem.

“I think teachers are afraid that they’ll just fuel the fire if they talk to us about police brutality,” a sophomore who asked to remain anonymous said. “I personally believe that whether this was racial discrimination or a man doing his job, students need to know we’re not living in a perfect world.”

While many teachers haven’t found the right time to discuss such a heavy topic, some do agree that the topic is highly appropriate to discuss social issues.

“It’s not my place as a teacher to make judgement,” history teacher Jason Johnson said. “but it is my place as a teacher to inform students of information and teach them how to develop their own thoughts to evaluate these social and historical events.”

Johnson says that the alleged police brutality has definitely been a hot topic this last year and has taken the opportunity to discuss the issue with his class. His world history students have watched video interviews, listened to commentators for both sides, and held class discussions.

“I felt it was appropriate for our history class because it relates the past to the present,” sophomore Mika Shin said. “Discussing the Ferguson protests helped me gain better knowledge and Mr. Johnson’s class is very open and comfortable to talk about it in detail.”