Terms of Endearment
Ms Lawson, a Math teacher at the Greenstown High School, a racially and economically diverse school. She was previously teaching at predominantly white schools where only a few students received free or reduced-price lunches. She has a Masters of Arts in Teaching degree, where she did a course on diversity, and therefore expectations are high that she does well teaching in a more racially and culturally diverse environment (Thomas, 2005).
Hardly had she settled in her new job than she encounters a highly sensitive incidence in her class. Note that Ms Lawson has committed to ensuring that there is racial equity in all her classes, and the response thus far has been satisfactory. She had even hung Diversity in Mathematics posters in her class, and the students of colour had responded well, as they learnt about historically important mathematicians of colour from all over the world (Thomas, 2005).
Sadly, and unexpected of her, she overhears one of her students, the same students she has been teaching on the need to embrace people that seem different from them, from a racial perspective, jokingly call another the n-word. Antony is a white student who, going by his explanation, calls Reggie who is an African American student the racial slur n-word as a joke. In her shock, she approaches and abruptly addresses the students while handling the whole situation with dissatisfaction. The whole scenario ends up a missed opportunity to teach the young kids on how to embrace diversity not only in school but outside the confines of the school. As the case study reports, she knows pretty well she should have handled the situation differently, her tone is one of a defeated soul.
I am of the opinion that there is no explanation enough that would vindicate the use of the n-word. None. Be it used as a joke on a friend or use out of ignorance, none would. Explaining the use of the word does by Antony does not make it less of a problem because the damage had already been done. The N-word has a history that is hard to replace by explaining. Let us look into the history of the N-word first.
Presently in the English language, the n-word is an ethnic slur, which is more often than not, directed at the black people. The word initially began as a neutral term referring to people with black skin, a variation of the n-word of the Spanish and Portuguese origin, and later adopted in the Latin world. It was often a derogatory word, which by the mid-twentieth century, more so in the United States, its use became unambiguously a pejorative, a racist insult. Due to its extremely offensive consideration, in print media, the word is usually published in euphemism, the n-word. The n-word is the ultimate insult which has tormented African-American generations for years (Roman, 2001).
With the explanation of the origin of the n-word, I vehemently oppose the use of the n-word under any circumstances. Under no circumstance would I vouch for the use of the n-word, and more especially in a school environment. Reason being that knowledge ingrained in the minds of young girls and boys would be hard to do away with, and so they would feel comfortable using other derogatory slurs even in the future. This gives a bad precedent for the future generations. In the future, children and students who grew up feeling that the use of the n-word is cool would still feel comfortable using the same word which is quite derogatory and offensive as far as I am concerned.
Apparently, a few students, especially those of the African decent would have felt hurt that Antony took it overly well to refer to Reggie by the n-word. The main reason the likes of Keisha couldn’t sit pretty at the blatant mention of the word. In my opinion, she had all the reason to seem to defend her ‘brother’. She appears to have taken it upon herself to tackle an injustice which in my view she thought that the teacher was too lenient in handling. That was the reason she used such strong words in her interjectory statement, “That’s no term of endearment, you idiot. It’s racist. And you’re lucky you’re not getting a beatdown right now for saying it.”.
The manner in which the teacher handled the tricky situation was somewhat wanting. The tension was building, and the teacher had other ways of calming the class down other than shouting Keisha down. Some students could react strongly whereas others are more apathetic like Reggie. Those who have a likelihood of being offended in a big way, like Keisha, in this case, do not deserve chastising but rather politeness. As an immediate remedy for the feelings of Keisha and any other student who would have felt so much offended by the words of Antony, a mother like approach and not a professional approach would have sufficed. Ms Lawson, in my assessment, should have used a more soothing word like, “Hey Keith, Antony was wrong and so has explained himself, but you too are wrong in calling him an idiot and two wrongs don’t make a right. Please take your seat as I handle this.” She shouldn’t have looked like she is defending the mistake of Antony or looking like the class is getting out of control and so she has to assert her authority. With the tensions cooled, she would then have re-established school-wide norms of respect and good citizenship. In the same breath, she would have explained to Antony, and indeed the class, that what one sees is right might not be the right thing to the other person or a group of individuals, and so rights should not be abused. This way no group of students, be it Whites, Hispanic or Blacks would have felt hard done since the teacher would have taken a neutral ground and followed that up with educating the young students on what’s right and what’s wrong in an emotional situation (Khalifa & Briscoe, 2015).
Seemingly, Reggie was dumbfounded by the fact that the teacher, who should have been his last line of defence decided to call him out in front of the rest of the class. I think the taunting of Reggie must have caused him a lot of trauma and some degree of depression. Such people deserve someone they can confide to, and not a group. I, therefore, suggest that the best thing that Ms Lawson should have done was to call Reggie privately in her office and let the young boy express her feelings to her. The open request for Reggie’s feeling wasn’t going to be the best method for Reggie to express his otherwise deep-seated feelings about the name calling by his supposed friend Antony (Kohli, 2009). Reggie looks like the kind of a person who reacts from the inside, and these are the kind who are highly affected by such actions, and so a better environment was required for the meeting between Reggie and his teacher and not the classroom before the eyes and the ears of the rest of the class. Indeed, Reggie would have responded in a better manner and consequently expressed his true feelings had the teacher been more concerned about the privacy that the situation required.
Had I been the teacher, I would have grabbed the opportunity and perfected the art of turning a sour, bitter situation sweet. It would have been a learning opportunity for all of us, myself as the teacher included (Chapman, 2013). Not looking down upon the efforts made by Ms Lawson in her case, because I understand how tough sometimes it is reacting under pressure, I would have tried to free the class up, if possible move the students outside the classroom, because the environment had already conceived tension. I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with this issue in an atmosphere which is literary contaminated already. I would even have requested for a local arrangement with the teacher coming immediately after me to deal with an emergency. Not trying to look like I am making a hill out of an anthill, we would, together with my students, have gone for a life skills lessons under a warm shade or in the field. There we would first have fun so that I first clear the tension in the air or else I make the situation worse. After all play and fun, I would then go ahead to teach the students the significance of respect as well as reminding the students the policies and expectations regarding student behaviour. I would there after call particular students, one by one to my office just to know what each felt and thought about the lessons learned about racism. First in the line would be the affected students like Antony, Reggie, Adolfo, and Keisha. I would also want to hear what other certain students thought about the whole scenario and whether there had been such in the past. Having given my input to the best of my knowledge, I would after that call upon the school councillors to talk to the students, giving particular importance to the topic of racism. I would as well report the scenario to the school administration so that I do not look like a lone ranger who tries to fight a vice by myself. Such efforts bear little fruits if any. I would request that the administration looks at creating a whole school awareness on such that it is not treated as a one-off incidence and forgotten thereafter. The school wide efforts who among others include holding TED shows, having motivational speakers address our students and having open forums to discuss such. Finally, I would hold a discussion with my faculty members just to look into how one of us would address such an incident if it occurs again in the future. These acts would, although not able to do away with racism in schools in an instant; they are good in converting the mindsets of students in a gradual manner (Chapman, 2013).
Chapman, T. K. (2013). You can’t erase race! Using CRT to explain the presence of race and racism in majority white suburban schools. Discourse: Studies In The Cultural Politics Of Education, 34(4), 611-627.
Khalifa, M. A., & Briscoe, F. (2015). A Counternarrative Autoethnography Exploring School Districts’ Role in Reproducing Racism: Willful Blindness to Racial Inequities. Teachers College Record, 117(8), 1-34.
Kohli, R. (2009). Unpacking internalized racism: teachers of color striving for racially just classrooms. Race Ethnicity And Education, 17(3), 367-387.
Roman, M. (2001). Race, politics and US students in 1930s Soviet Russia. Race & Class, 53(2), 58-76.
Thomas, M. E. (2005). ‘I think it’s just natural’: the spatiality of racial segregation at a US high school. Environment & Planning A, 37(7), 1233-1248.