Ferguson & Philosophy Class

It is the beginning of the school year. Some professors start off their first class with deep puzzles, or thought experiments, or polls. Others begin with definitions of philosophy or by reciting and discussing inspiring passages from great philosophical works. Still others, strangely, hand out syllabi and read through them. There are those, though, that like to bring current events into their classroom, and right now, in Missouri, we have a current event that brings into view a version of the United States that doesn’t match up with the typical college student’s understanding of how our society works. One of the things a philosophical education does is disturb the ordinary, and the events in Ferguson seem to do that all on their own—even if they are all too ordinary for some segments of the population (as many have remarked: if this is how the Ferguson police behave when the entire world is watching, imagine what they do when we’re not). So the Ferguson story may make for a valuable and timely opening-day conversation with your students.

While the recent conflicts in Gaza attracted the attention of several philosophers (see the collection here) from what I can tell, philosophers have not yet published opinion pieces on what has been happening in Ferguson, and not many have substantively blogged about it (see Leigh Johnson’s “Ferguson and American Apartheid” for one exception; please share others you know about in the comments). Still, the lack of reading material should not deter in-class discussion. How, if at all, can philosophy help students understand what is happening and what is important about what is happening in Ferguson? If you were to discuss the events there in your class, what would you ask? What ideas would you explore? What would you hope to achieve?

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