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The GEM Debate: The “N” Word; Should This Teacher Be Suspended?

The GEM Debate:
The “N” Word; Should This Teacher Be Suspended?

By Admin

The N-word. Highly-charged and not going away, people. It’s like when you go to a foreign country and the first thing you want to learn is the bad words. In America one of the first words people learn starts with “N” and ends with a whole lot of trouble.

That’s what this Chicago teacher is finding out. Seems some students were passing a note with  rap lyrics containing the N-word and Lincoln Brown intercepted it. He then tried to use the incident as a “teachable moment” by discussing the use of the word in the context of our culture and even used the book “Huckleberry Finn” as reference. The principal and the school district found the use of the word offensive and suspended Brown.

I, for one, am so tired of people acting like this word is not festering within and filtering into our children’s everyday world. Like Brown said in the article, “It’s ridiculous to believe that sixth-graders aren’t exposed to this language, not only in music but in their everyday lives.” And for those who haven’t been exposed, wouldn’t it be a great thing to have a teacher sensitively explain the use of the word than to have your sixth grader hear it on the street and look to his friends to help them figure it out? Or Heaven forbid they hear it in a lyric and take THAT contextually as something they should use casually on a daily basis as they refer to their friends and family?

I can’t see any part of the principal’s or the school district’s side of this. Unless they have some policy that states that all subject matter must be approved prior to presenting it in class, I’m flabbergasted.  It seems that life lessons aren’t being taught in the classroom anymore. Teachers are teaching or are being forced to teach only that which will get students to pass certain standardized tests and that’s it. I, however, remember the teachers who taught me a little more than the books offered and would hope my children have the good fortune to get a few of these educators along the way. Can you imagine how excited you would be if your child came home and said, “Mommy/Daddy, we learned about how words can hurt people. Do you know what words we shouldn’t use and why?  Oh, and I learned a little bit about America’s ugly history today, too”? I’d be pretty impressed.  And I don’t see one parent comment within this article complaining about what the teacher taught, and we all know how rare that can be.

So what do you think?  Am I completely wrong here?  Do you agree with the principal and school board? Would you rather deal with these things in your own home or are you looking to the schools to actually teach your children more than how to pass a test?

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  1. royale Watkins

    February 21, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I agree to the extent that we’re willing to start telling the whole damn truth about BLACK history in public and private schools. There are so many young children, white and black, who have no idea of that the black journey to America started with the greatest armed robbery ever committed. Hands down!!! Can we start there. And extends it’s financial and psychological foot print into the twenty-first century. #BankJob.

  2. Will Jomes

    February 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    In the Illinois school system, I once had a teacher ask me to lie on the floor with my ankles crossed and my hands behind my back to demonstrate how slaves were transported in the bottom of slave ships. That same teacher also asked the class to list at least ten positive aspects of slavery. When I asked to be transfered from his class, he took me into the hall and saidI that I and the other “brothers” that took his class were “lazy” and just didn’t want do to do the work he gave us. I was still too naive to undertand that I had done nothing wrong and that this teacher was a bigot who enjoyed picking on African American students.

    If you give the right to teach words like nigger, spick, faggot, etc, the best that can happen is that some children wil understand not to use them… the worst that will happen is that the wrong teachers can use them to hurt children… and will not be punished for it.

  3. Vincent Dent

    February 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    I saw this video and I thought it was hilarious. The guy seems very earnest in his efforts to explain the difference between “nigger” and “nigg-AH” While its funny it’s also a bit sad that he does not understand how it is still impossible for whites to use this word in any form w/o causing hurt feelings. He seems to be someone who genuinely wants to improve and he obviously is not intimidated by his students, always a good thing. In all, a 10 day suspension w/o pay should get his attention.

  4. Ella Rucker

    February 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Wow, Will. You have led some life. I have never really had an experience like that. I went to an African American school in an African Amerian neighborhood. There were definitely other people along the way though. They were always very sweet people and never made me feel any less than wonderful. Sorry you had such an experience. That freakin sucks that there are people like that. I see our point that there are those who won’t use it responsibly, but shouldn’t they be the ones punished? Not those who are really trying to teach young people how to stop hurting each other intentionally or unintentionally?

  5. April Storm

    February 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Without knowing exactly what was said to the students AND the context of the teacher’s statements, (tone, examples, etc) I really hesitate to condemn anyone. It’s a very touchy subject and in some situations, it’s just best to err on the side of caution. He probably should have just sent the note-passers to the principal and let them deal with it.

  6. Sandy Seale

    February 21, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    OK so here’s a white girls opinion. I hate people using any & all words that make another person feel inferior or feel that they are being made less a person by the one using it….regardless of the ethnic, religious, sexual connotation involved. That being said, I also feel even when such remarks, words, insinuations are made by someone inside that particular group it also causes adverse reactions & misunderstandings. If they aren’t ok for others to say then they shouldn’t be ok period. Other groups don’t always understand why its ok to use a word within that culture if its so wrong outside of it. I just feel it would help eradicate those types of insults & misunderstandings if the offensive words, etc. were erased from society by all. Ultimately it just comes down to proper respect for every human…..period. As John Lennon said “Imagine all the people……….and the world will live as one”

  7. Sandy Seale

    February 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    PS As for your final questions. It would be a whole new world if all parents had the proper attitudes & beliefs that would break down all racial barriers & properly trained their children in love of mankind in general; unfortunately this isn’t always they case. So it would be awesome if our schools could use their exposure to do so. Unfortunately, once again, all teachers aren’t sensitive or knowledgeable either….so don’t really know the answers.

  8. Vincent Dent

    February 21, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Oops…this is the one I was talking about:

    Vincent Dent

  9. Will Jones

    February 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Ella- The teacher that thought he was hurting me by burying me in crap didn’t realize that I was a seed! LOL

    …but here again, I grew up in the 70’s and was bussed to almost all white schools. I never had an African American teacher until high school, and many of the well-meaning teachers that I had treating being black as a handicap that they could teach out of us or help us to get over. It wasn’t that they wanted to hurt us (most of them anyway) it was that they didn’t understand what NOT to say and do.

    There’s a very good chance that this teacher is a white, heterosexual, male who has never been the victim ov any racism, has never taken any classes in Afro-American studies, has taken very little if any sociology and child sychology classes, and doesn’t really understand the subject matter he was trying to teach. This means he was basically giving his uniformed opinion to a group of children who couldn’t stop him from doing so and probably took what ever came out of his mouth as truth.

    I think his being suspended for not thinking before he spoke is a good first lesson in racial sensitivity for Mr. Brown’s class… and for Mr. Brown.

  10. m.e. johnson

    February 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Doesn’t much matter what we think. Today schools are harsher than courts in that there are no shades of gray, no degrees of seriousness or intention. I suppose it’s to spare the staff from having to think and to avoid lawsuits. Zero tolerance sucks, in my view.

  11. Will Jomes

    February 21, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Yeah, M.E, but tolerance is a slippery slope. Who gets it, who doesn’t, who decides who gets it?

    Once they teachdo it, which kids are being hateful when theythey use itthe in thethe hall, and which kids were just talking about what they learned in class? If our teacher can say it, why can’t we use the word in the school paper or yearbook?

    Everybody wants the right to speak freely, but so few want the resposiblity to think before they do it.

    As Voltaire said, “Common sense isn’t very common.

  12. F Reese

    February 21, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    When I was in school, which wasn’t an extremely long time ago, our history, which includes Black history, wasn’t talked about unless it referred to slavery and what was written in the textbooks that were handed down. There was also Huck Finn & Tom Sawyer on the reading list, which some schools have banned. Along with this, I remember prayer & the pledge of allegiance being part of my school day. So when decisions about what can & can’t be discussed or done in school was taken out of the hands of educators, things changed drastically. Only a few, I believe, have been for good. I think this teacher was trying to do a good thing but when you have other “superiors” to answer to, which include governmental, that teachable moment is taken out of his hands. Was it the “n” reference or the actual WORD itself that caused the problem? I think by suspended this teacher, they are sending the wrong message to kids if that truly was what happened, after all none of us were there. But let me take you to a different recent example, an art teacher displayed the works of his students recently in a small town in Louisiana and knowingly out up several pieces by one student who had a “hunting season” caricature of President Obama taped to a tree with another person running against him smiling, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny standing near the tree. Another picture showed the President with a bullet hole in his temple. There were others but why did nothing happen to this teacher? Why did it have to take a parent of another student to get an outside organization to intervene? The school didn’t. They allowed this kid or this kids parents beliefs to be displayed at the school art show. The best thing parents can do is teach their kids right from wrong, learn about what’s “hip” or the lingo, the latest drugs on the street, making your kids feel comfortable enough to talk about anything and be honest with them (within reason–age appropriateness), if they ask you about your history of things when you were younger. Yes, teachers are there to teach kids but they are not responsible for everything.

  13. Ella Rucker

    February 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    I wonder what this conversation would be if the teacher were African American?

    No, not all teachers think before they speak. Teaching is a living, breathing, thing. It should be taught by people who know when they see a “teachable moment,” right? That’s why they have animals, plants and other teaching aides in some classrooms. So that real life can be taught. The teacher found a note and chose to address the issue right then and there. If there had been any other name calling shouldn’t he have addressed that? Why is it always this word that causes speed bumps? That is what gives it more power. Now all the kids are talking about it, and the word has grown in power…yet again.

  14. Gayle Mahoney

    February 21, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I guess I am just about as “white” as they come, but I think the “N” word degrades all people… any language that subjugates any person in that way is unconscionable in my opinion. I believe that our children should be educated about the ugliness of slavery, racism and every other kind of intolerance in our society, in order to dig deeper about our own sense of history, identity.
    This weekend I saw a play, Reparation, about racial identity and personal identity. My take on the play was partially that we are all on a journey together regarding racial issues. Some of that process is introspective, some requires outward-looking, but either way it is a JOURNEY that we are all on together!
    If you are anywhere near northern NJ see the play here:

  15. m.e. johnson

    February 21, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    F. Reese, you nailed it.

  16. Kathy H

    February 22, 2012 at 1:13 am

    OK, white opinion here….but it personally hurts me to hear that word. I know it’s part of everyday conversation with younger children, but they should be taught the whole ugly truth of it…..with TRUTH being the important part. We need to have a dialogue about both our past and our future.

    As others have said here….it seems that the only black history that is taught is slavery. It seems to me that people of color are just basically ignored. We don’t want to talk about anything too ugly, (the whole slavery issue is watered down) and we don’t want to talk about anything positive.

    As anyone who lived in the 60’s can attest to…..we are only pretending that racism has gone away. We’ve had plenty of evidence since 2008, that it has not gone away at all, it’s just been swept under the rug. If this teacher was truly trying to start a dialogue, then I am all for it. We need to stop pretending our history doesn’t exist and bring the ugliness out in the open and expose it for what it is.

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