Texas Teacher Placed on Leave for Using ‘N-Word’ in Civil Rights History Lesson

Teacher placed on administrative leave for using "N-word"
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A Texas teacher has been placed on administrative leave after school officials learned she used the “N-word” during a history class on the Civil Rights Movement.

The middle school teacher appears to have had good intentions when conducting a Civil Rights Movement history lesson intended to inspire meaningful classroom discussion on society’s use of the “N-word.” It appers the only thing it got her was the school district placing her on administrative leave and launching an investigation.

Rockwall Independent School District officials placed seventh grade Utley Middle School teacher Rebekah Cook on administrative leave after they “learned of a Civil Rights lesson that was intended to provoke discussion about society’s use of a racially derogatory term.”

CBS DFW reported at the center of the controversy was the 1997 Chicago Reader article The N-Word and How to Use It, which Cook handed out as part of the lesson. It is richly laced with the “N-word” throughout and for a reason. The piece, written by freelance journalist, editor, and PR strategist Bennie Currie, a black man, tackles his provocative and personally complex relationship with the “N-word,” nearly 20 years before the ABC sitcom Black-ish took on the very same topic on the episode “The Word.”

The N-Word and How to Use It since was published in America Now: Short Readings from Recent Periodicals.

Cook’s district webpage lists her weekly lesson plans since the beginning of the school year. The “N word article” lesson appears on her seventh grade students’ April 11-15 class grid. Previous online Civil Rights movement lessons include the Rev., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “A More Perfect Union” speech about race and a video on civil rights activist Ruby Bridges. Among her eighth grade offerings — Fairy Tale Mock Trials, a tween-friendly classroom series that transforms favorite fables like The Three Little Pigs into a courtroom case where the wolf gets tried for the murder of two of the three pigs. Another lesson is a Holocaust project.

A spokesperson with the district told the Dallas CBS affiliate that Cook had students debating and discussing the “N-word” after which she was placed on leave Thursday morning. Rockwall ISD said they opened an investigation into the incident.

In a statement sent to district parents by Utley Middle School Principal Todd Bradford and posted in its entirety on Facebook, Rockwall ISD administrators also stated:

“Three 7th grade classes read an article and discussed society’s use of the N-word. While the teacher has expressed that the intent of the lesson was to provoke discussion, the teacher did not seek prior approval from the campus or district. This lesson activity and article are not part of Rockwall ISD’s curriculum and racially derogatory terms have no place in our classrooms or district.”

In 2015, a Los Angeles middle school white, male teacher found himself suspended by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) after political correctness got in the way of his history lesson.  Revere Charter Middle School and Magnet Center teacher Steven Carnine stood accused of using the “N-word” in class in a derogatory way. The Los Angeles Times reported a parent said the teacher “didn’t use the word against anyone in class. He was covering material in the syllabus for a U.S. history course.”

The fracas was over Carnine’s attempt to historically frame the topic of racism and racial animosities that existed during the time of President Lincoln.

Also last year, a white female Virginia high school teacher was put on leave for using the “N-word” in her classroom as part of a historical lesson on racism, derogatory terms, and the nickname of the Washington Redskins, Fox News reported.

On The View, Whoopi Goldberg defended the Virginia teacher. Goldberg said: “A history teacher is teaching history.” She added, in part: “You have to know history. These are words that were used. However, if someone calls you the ‘N-word,’ then you have a reason to go kvetch. If they are doing it historically, you have no reason to bitch, but you only know that if you know your history.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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