Mar 4, 2012

In the News Again: The N-Word in Education

Image Credit:Flickr/Oxalis37 
Last week I wrote a post about the n-word in education. Two news stories from the Chicago area caught my attention--one coach posted a comment on Facebook using the n-word and was suspended for a year; a teacher used the n-word during class and was also suspended. The motivation behind each educator's use of the word was different, but the outcomes were the same. I made the point that no matter what the motivation, the use of that word hurts.

A few days after publishing that post, I read an Iowa newspaper and found another similar story. Read that story here. The story says that a biracial high school student was walking down the hall with some friends having a lighthearted discussion in which one boy asked another "are you gay?" A teacher overheard this conversation and intervened. According to the story, she
directed him to her classroom, allegedly stating “I’ll show you if it is OK to say things like that.
The complaint alleges that once in the room the teacher asked,
 “How would you like it if I called you a (racial epithet)?” and “How would you like it if someone called you a lazy (racial epithet)?”
The boy's father filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission, but it appears that no further action will be taken. The district issued a statement saying that it is a personnel matter, and that due to state and federal privacy laws they are unable to say anything other than "racism will not be tolerated;"  whenever an allegation of racism or discrimination is made, it will be investigated fully.

In my own classroom, I've dealt with students making politically incorrect and/or hurtful comments to each other. Teenagers today (and back in my own teen years, too) say things for shock value, not always realizing that those things are hurtful. It is always difficult to figure out how to make kids understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such comments. But one thing I know is that calling someone names to teach them that name-calling is wrong is ineffective. In my book, it falls into the same camp of spanking children to teach them that hitting is wrong, or applying the death penalty to teach people that killing is wrong. It smacks of hypocrisy. If something is wrong, it is wrong. Bullying a bully doesn't make them just makes them more hurt, more angry, and more likely to bully again.  Using a hurtful word to teach that hurtful words are wrong is not teaching anybody anything.

In addition to that newspaper story, I was informed by my husband that someone hollered the n-word at him from their car recently. He was getting the mail from our mailbox at the time. He says it has happened a few times lately, but until I talked to him about last week's post he hadn't said anything about it to me. He told me that his personal attitude about the n-word leads him to shout back, "That's all you got???" He says that he refuses to allow the n-word--or any word--to hurt him.

I am left wondering how to prepare my children for the very real possibility that they will encounter the n-word--either from a random passerby who shouts from their car, or from a well-intentioned teacher who doesn't realize how hurtful that word is. How do we prepare our children for something like that? I remember my mom teaching me the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me." But for most kids, that saying is just not true. Some words hurt. How do you teach your children a) how to avoid using hurtful words and b) how to respond when someone directs hurtful words towards them? I look forward to reading your comments.
The intention of the teacher mentioned in this post may have been to teach a lesson about the hurtfulness of using the word "gay", but the outcome was just as hurtful due to her use of the n-word.  There are better ways to teach about the hurtful ways people use the word gay. Check out Teaching Tolerance's lesson plan What's So Bad about "That's So Gay"?  It starts with a simple activity: ask your students if they've ever been called a name. Ask them to think about how it made them feel. Get them thinking about what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such names without calling them any names.

Another great resource is The following downloadable/printable flyer comes from their website.


  1. Words are powerful, but what's more important is the intention behind them. We choose to decide whether to let them hurt us, like your husband did. It makes me feel physically ill to think about a time when/if my daughter will be called racial slurs. My hope is that somehow she will learn from that and it will teach her empathy instead of instilling hate inside of her. 

  2. I guess the thing that bothers me about this whole story is that intentions aren't acted upon in a better way. Another saying from my mom,"The road to hell is paved with good intentions." 

    It's awful enough to have to worry about in-your-face racism (like those people who shout racial slurs from passing vehicles) but then to also have to watch out for people who have believe they are not racist, but have our society's views of race so ingrained that they just don't even realize their words/behavior are a problem...I know that people can do a better job. So many people DO a better job. I hope that the teacher in this story gets some additional diversity training. She has the good intentions, but she needs the opportunity to learn how to put those intentions into action in a more positive way.


What do you think? Start a conversation here!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...