COMMENTARY: Racism in Schools is on the Rise; What Do We Do?

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Sadly, the Poulsbo Elementary School incident is just one of many similar N-word episodes that seem to be permeating America’s public school system.

It’s not just a local issue confined to Poulsbo. It’s a troubling pattern in public schools across the country.

In Chicago, for example, a white school teacher who was suspended last year for leading a class discussion about the “N-word,” race relations and racism, has sued the school district for what he sees as unjust punishment.

In Philadelphia, racially charged text messages were behind the resignations of two school administrators. A 100-page transcript provided by sources last year revealed a series of N-word-laden text messages were exchanged between Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como and Director of Athletics and Activities Jim Donato. The messages were written and received on district-issued cell phones.

And last year, during a Hartford, Connecticut magnet school field trip, black students were told by teachers to participate in a slavery reenactment, complete with use of the N-word, where students had to pretend their instructors were slave masters. They were also told to pretend to pick cotton and to imagine they were aboard a slave ship.

The blatant use of the N-word by public school teachers didn’t start last year. In 2008, in Louisville, Kentucky, a Valley Traditional High School teacher, Paul Dawson, was suspended for 10 days for telling a black student: “Sit down ni***.” Dawson said he felt comfortable using the N-word because black students use the N-word liberally and he felt by using the N-word, he had a better connection with his students.

So what should America’s public school administrators do about this pattern of racism in our schools? Do they need to do a better job of vetting teachers? Should schools offer mandatory cultural sensitivity training classes? How do we stop teachers from using the N-word in classrooms while teaching black students?

What do you think?

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15 thoughts on “COMMENTARY: Racism in Schools is on the Rise; What Do We Do?

  1. The teacher should NOT be fired for trying to explain the difference between “negro”—the Spanish word for “black”–and “nigger” a pejorative word used to demean people of African descent. Discussing issues surrounding racism and racist word usage is NOT the same as promoting racism or trying to denigrate ethnic groups. The avoidance of discussion is a major part of the problem, and the “silence” surrounding America’s painful history of racism with Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans and African-Americans is one of the reasons racism is perpetuated in this country. As a Black ESL teacher, I often interwove historical data and discussions around these issues, since language–and its uses–often reflects and expresses our collective thoughts on race, culture, heritage, etc. I believe this teacher was attempting to help students understand the historical context of the word “negro” and how that differed from calling someone an ethnic slur.

  2. We need to have our own schools, and those African-American schools that exist, need to be supported. The New Medina School is an on line school, so you have a choice.

  3. it is really difficult to determine “intent”, but i do think that we, are people (all) that have lost the art of civil discussions about differences. If this kind of discussion can’t be had in the classroom, where do they take place.? Words absolutely have power, but we have to learn to choose the power we (all people) will give them.

  4. We, African-Americans, are failing as Parents when a Teacher has to explain/teach our child/children things that should have been taught to them by us, the Parents.They should KNOW about the continent of Africa, our Middle Passage, our Slavery experience, those of us who were Freemen and lived free(with papers),the Names that were used on us , the abuses mentally and physically that a few of us survived. I taught my children these things…..Plus…How we as a people accepted the verbal abuses by continuing to use them on each other through the present time as if we don’t Know the meanings. NO, a Teacher should not be fired for trying to teach. Celebrities,use the word freely in rhythms and rhymes for everyone to hear and repeat and learn……then, guess what? ……It is going to be repeated and used by others. WE MUST FIRST LOVE OURSELVES ENOUGH TO STOP THE USE AND MISUSE OF NIGGER, NIGGA ETC IN PUBLIC.( BUT use it only to teach)

    • So true! Unfortunately, the “gangsta rap” culture promoted the use of abusive
      self-hate speech toward not only African-Americans, but women as well. Then this
      abusive speech is seen as “trendy”, “cool”, “hot” and “so def’”–when it’s actually
      the Olde Plantation System perpetuating itself through the ignorance of people
      of color! When WE stop calling each other female dogs (bitches), female calves (heifers),
      rapists of our mothers (mutha f’ckers), ethnically-mixed folks (mulattos), and black
      trash (niggers/niggas/niggras)–and start boycotting comedians, rappers, musicians,
      clergy, community leaders and politicians who sling this filth at us daily–then we can
      demand that outsiders stop their use of these terms! This self-hate speech MUST
      be “TERMINATED WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE” BY US FIRST!!

  5. I agree. Based on these facts I don’t think she should be fired as all. This “we can use it but you can’t” mentality is absurd. Why shouldn’t an educator be allowed to explain the difference when asked the question??

  6. Because she is married to a black man she felt that she had the right to explain the black experience in this country I dont think so ! Something that she knows nothing about she should be fired ! There is a diffrence between the words she would never get it ! I dont use either becuse I understand what both words mean !

  7. White people have always been itching to say that word for some reason. I believe the professor said it best, M.E.D. But I worked in that school district area in that state, and Black Teachers seem to not do Black Boys that much slack EITHER.

    • Having taught in a predominantly black urban high school, I observed that many times, unruly,
      undisciplined black students–male and female–verbally attack and disrespect teachers–especially BLACK teachers–for any number of reasons or NO reason! Then they get angry when the teacher tries to get them to sit down, back down, calm down–and the teacher gets BLAMED because the smart-aleck, out-of-control BRATS continually disrupt the learning process. Then the REST of the
      students are short-changed instructional time, because now the teacher has to WASTE her/his
      class time, attempting to tame the heathen/heathenette who has decided to show off, show out and/or impress his/her little friends with disruptive behavior. Far too many of our children were
      taught to disrespect ALL authority (no matter the ethnic group) and allowed to do and say ANYTHING to anyone–including adults. Bad character traits–disrespect of authority; lack of self-discipline; disruptive behavior; abusive speech pattens–BEGIN IN EARLY CHILDHOOD and GET WORSE IF NOT CORRECTED EARLY BY PARENTS. When parents FAIL TO DISCIPLINE THEIR
      OFFSPRING, THEY PROGRAM THEM TO FAIL IN SCHOOL AND IN LIFE!

  8. This is stupid. We call each other Niggers, niggas, nigga-roes, and negroes all the time; an educator attempts to explain the difference and NOW its a big deal??? NIGGA PLEASE!!!!!!!! Negro was the word of the day during MLK life– it was appropriate to use; 5th Graders do not decide curriculum or what adults say.

    • I somewhat agree with you. I’m on the outside looking in and don’t have all of the information, but it didn’t seem to me that she was trying to be racist when she used the N-word. We should stop being “afraid” of the word. If it is being used in the context of educating someone and explaining why it is demeaning and why it shouldn’t be used, then so be it. She should not be put through the ringer in her attempt to educate. Now on the other hand, Rush Limbaugh and Quentin Tarantino feel as if they have free reign to use the N-word as though it will go out of style before the next sunrise, but they are still on the air and making movies without ANY repercussions! WTF?!

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