Milwaukee Professor Creates Syllabus To Help Teachers Talk About Sherman Park

Oct 20, 2016

Like many of her fellow Milwaukeeans, Lynne Woehrle was sad to hear the news of protests and violence in Sherman Park over the summer.

The neighborhood on Milwaukee's northwest side experienced several nights of protests in mid-August, following a police-involved shooting. The unrest further amplified conversations across the city about race, policing and economic disparities, among other things. 

As a sociology professor at nearby Mount Mary University, Woehrle spends her time studying issues similar to those plaguing the affected neighborhood.

So, she figured the best way to help was to do what she does best: teach.

Woehrle put together a “Sherman Park Syllabus,” a four-page lesson guide for teachers and professors. The plan includes resources to help educators lead discussions about the history and significance behind the events in Sherman Park, in their own classrooms.

"I was trying to think of what [was] something that I could constructively do heading back into the semester. I knew that many of our students come from the Milwaukee area, and that it was likely to come up in classes," Woehrle explains. "And then I thought, 'I could share this with other people!'"

The inspiration came from a similar project Woehrle's colleague on the East Coast put together, after similar events unfolded in Baltimore, Maryland.

"I found it really helpful, I liked the idea that people could add to it, could give discussions, that there was a common discussion around, what could we be doing in the classroom to think about this?" Woehrle says. 

The syllabus gives a demographic picture of the Sherman Park neighborhood, as well as briefly outlining some of the challenges residents have raised to national attention, including unemployment, educational declines, incarceration and policing.

Resources from several other local groups and news coverage are also provided, as links within the syllabus. 

So far, most of the educators who have expressed interest in using the syllabus for their class are Woehrle's colleagues in higher education institutions. But, she says the material could serve as a starting point for discussions in a number of different classroom settings, and realms of study. 

"If you're teaching right near where Sherman Park is, I think it's pretty much coming up in almost any class at this point, and there's a lot of eagerness to talk about it and understand," she explains. "But it certainly is a tool that would be useful in history, or perhaps in a political science class. But it's not really exclusive to that, because any class can bring in current events." 

"That's the point of putting together a project like this, is to really be able to bring into our classrooms discussions about what's happening. Whatever theory...or discipline you want to apply to it, you can still talk about the different aspects of the situation."

Since first penning the plan following the events in Sherman Park in August, Woehrle says she's made a few revisions and additions, based off feedback she's received from colleagues and neighbors.