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Spineless Administrators Harm Students

Just when it seems that nothing more can be said about the appalling state of teacher morale and disappointing performance of students comes a new horror story ("LAUSD Teacher Sued for Using 'N-Word' in Class in Historic Context," Breitbart, Mar. 24).  

In an 8th-grade honors American history class at Revere Charter Middle School and Magnet Center in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Steven Carnine was trying to explain how racism developed in this country.  He told his students that Abraham Lincoln had been called a "N-lover" by his enemies.  He did not use the word against anyone in his class.  Nevertheless, one student complained, and the teacher was immediately suspended.

I taught English for 28 years in the LAUSD.  So what happened did not surprise me one bit. Huckleberry Finn was an assigned book for 11th-grade American literature. But because one of the characters was "N-Jim," a parent objected to the use of the novel. Downtown administrators promptly issued a lengthy written apology bordering on self-flagellation, even though the novel was a classic and was approved by the district.  It was then that I lost all respect for them.  

The case of the middle-school teacher reflects the spinelessness of the district.  Carnine was teaching an honors class, and correctly used primary historical resources, rather than rely on expurgated textbooks. Instead of suspending him, the district should have told the parents that they could remove their daughter if they didn't like the teacher's approach.

We wonder why students lack critical thinking skills. Yet when we have an opportunity to teach them, we cave in so easily to complaints.  It's little wonder that most students are turned off to the curriculum in history and English classes.  Pablum is not very satisfying fare.

Let's hope that the 800-signature petition to restore Carnine to his job succeeds.  But I guarantee that there will be more cases like his as long as political correctness trumps academic inquiry, and administrators are cowards.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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