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A Painful Reminder

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Officials at Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools are replacing a precursory lesson to the reading of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. An essay and a poem that were used to prepare students for a discussion of the “N-word,” which appears in Lee’s novel, are being scrapped after a ninth grade African American student complained.

According to a Washington Post article, the 15-year-old student was offended when she observed her English teacher, who is white, mimicking stereotypical African American gestures and elocution while reading the assigned Gloria Naylor poem, “The Meaning of the Word.” “She has a different style of teaching things and we knew she was a little over the top on some lessons. But this was not a lesson to be over the top about,” said the student.

As an alternative, Montgomery County educators are suggesting students study segregation photographs from the Jim Crow era and read an essay about a racist white southerner by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Besty Brown, curriculum director for the county said, “What we heard from enough community members and some teachers is that it's [a discussion of the “N-word”] sensitive, it’s emotionally charged. And if we have a lesson that could be misused and cause real hurt to a few or to a whole classroom of kids, then maybe we need to change.”

Earlier this week the NAACP held a symbolic funeral in Detroit for the “N-word” and other racial slurs, according to the Associated Press.

4 Comments

When will we get off our high horses for discussions of things that are history? Yes, the "n" word is offensive, but it was a word that was historically in use at that time. Hence the poem and an absolutely brilliant novel. To Kill A Mockingbird is about so much more than racial epithets, why was a precursor lesson needed on race issues? What 9th grader doesn't know about segregation? And since when does a 9th grader get to dictate what is taught and how something is taught?
By the way, has anyone listened to hip hop lyrics recently? If the "n" word is so offensive, why can some people use it, but not others? Why is it not allowed in a poem read in a school, but on the airwaves listened to by millions of people?

Amen! to Dee's Post.

I gathered from the article that the offense lay not in the material used, but in the teacher's "mimicking stereotypical African American gestures and elocution," while reading it. I think the officials responded inappropriately by changing the material. I would have preferred a facilitated session between the students and teacher aimed at building some understanding.

We have too long tried to eliminate controversial words and material in literature, rather than seeking to understand. Disposing of Huckleberry Finn, for instance, eliminates the N-word, but also some biting social criticism of slavery.

I taught in a school that was predominantly black. I found it both ironic and sad that while the students frequently called each other the n-word and were very derogatory to others of their own race (they could have given Imus lessons on adjectives), if I expected them to not talk during a test or raise their hand, I was a racist.

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  • msmthtchr: I taught in a school that was predominantly black. I read more
  • Margo/Mom: I gathered from the article that the offense lay not read more
  • tim: Amen! to Dee's Post. read more
  • Dee: When will we get off our high horses for discussions read more

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