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

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  • Claudia Alves, the principal of Poulsbo Elementary School in Poulsbo, Washington, should be fired for using the N-word to describe African Americans while teaching her black, fifth-grade students.

    Instead, Alves has been placed on a leave of absence while the school district investigates her use of the N-word.

    Any use of the N-word is intolerable in a public school, especially when teachers are hired to shape the minds of young students.

    When did it become acceptable for educators to throw around the N-word in class as casually as taking roll in homeroom?

    Here’s what happened: When a group of students voiced their concern  with saying “Negro” during rehearsal for a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. play, Alves allegedly attempted to explain the difference between a “Negro” and a “nig***.”

    According to local media reports, Shawna Smith, the mother of a Poulsbo fifth-grader, said students in her son’s class were uncomfortable with the word “Negro” in a play they were rehearsing about Martin Luther King Jr. Smith is white, and is married to Matthew Smith, who is black.

    Alves explained to Smith’s son that it was acceptable to use “Negro” because it is not offensive like “Nig***”

    What was Alves thinking?

    Smith’s son, according to reports, was so upset by the term “Negro” that he refused to participate in the play. But then, for some unexplained reason, Alves used the N-word again – this time on the phone with Smith’s husband and she was suspended two days later. Alves deliberately used the N-word a second time and that bigoted behavior should be a firing offense.

    Poulsbo Superintendent Patty Page sent a letter to parents informing them of the incident and the ongoing search for an acting principal.

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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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