Teacher suspended for ‘teachable moment’

After a sixth-grade girl used the “n-word” in a note, Lincoln Brown discussed racial slurs with his predominantly black class at a Chicago school. A writing and social studies teacher, he thought it was a “teachable moment.”

Principal Gregory Mason, who’s black, walked in as the white teacher was using the “n-word.” He said nothing at the time. But two weeks later, Mason suspended Brown for five days on charges of “using verbally abusive language to or in front of students” and “cruel, immoral, negligent or criminal conduct or communication to a student, that causes psychological or physical harm.”

Last week, Brown filed a federal lawsuit, alleging his free-speech and due process rights were violated.

Brown says he told students about the use of the racial slur in Huckleberry Finn to show “how upsetting such language can be.” He also cited “Spike Lee’s comments about rap music and racial profiling in movies.” Students were engaged in the discussion and later told Brown how much they enjoyed it, he said.

“It’s so sad — if we can’t discuss these issues, we’ll never be able to resolve them,” Brown said Thursday.

I guess we never will.

The son of liberal parents who named him after Abraham Lincoln, Brown, 48, grew up in integrated Hyde Park, where Murray Language Academy is located. He  attended local schools, where he was in the white minority. He’s taught in black neighborhood schools for 21 years. Many parents are supporting him, especially the ones with kids in his after-school Shakespeare program, he told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Ironically, his lawsuit is titled Brown vs. the Board of Education.

As a former headline writer, I feel for the ESPN headline writer fired for using “chink in the armor” to describe Jeremy Lin’s turnovers. The c-word may not even resonate as a slur to the younger generation. And you’d be amazed at the double entendres that headline writers can miss.

An ESPN sportscaster (with an Asian wife!) also used c-word in armor in reference to Lin. He was suspended.

About Joanne


  1. Gee — I guess i could never have taught my lesson on the social structure of Maycomb in To Kill A Mockingbird at that school.

  2. Those people who can’t bear an academic discussion of the topic need to grow thicker skins, especially since many apparently have no problem with that term, and many other offensive terms and attitudes, in rap music.

    • Great thoughts, Ski! You raise valid orcnecns and issues that administrations love to take advantage of when there isn’t accountability. The unions have fought for great things and I really am appreciative of the work environment I get to be in. As great as all of their work is, the opposite side of that coin is dark and troublesome. How many rotten teachers are hiding behind unions? There are at least 4 teachers in my building alone, that when given questionable reviews, threatened to sue or called the union rep. Coming from a charter school tradition, where teachers are at-will employees, I knew from the get go that if I didn’t do my job to the best of my ability and work towards creating positive relationships with admin that I wouldn’t last. Having that proverbial cliff of responsibility and self-accountability leads to quite a different culture. I am a huge fan of getting rid of tenure, though the politics within schools is scary enough that there has to be some sort of fair process to avoid getting weeded out by a supervisor that just doesn’t like you. But then again, in the real world, in the business world, the reality is that not everyone is going to like you and someone is always aiming for you.I’m also irritated with our union because they cost us a 4% raise several years ago because they didn’t feel that it was adequate. When the dust settled, we got a 1% raise. It turned out okay because of the economic downturn and budget cuts, but I’m still not convinced that unions have children’s best interest in mind.The bigger issue I think is beyond unions though. Education itself has become to political and data-driven that content is taking a back seat. Furthermore, there isn’t a culture in America that values actual learning and hard work. Students want the grade and don’t care about the knowledge or skills. So whether there’s unions or not, tenure or not, legislation or not, the problem won’t take an upturn until there’s a greater cultural value of learning.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    How sad that the principal didn’t participate in the conversation and express his opinion there with the students.

  4. When will the phrase “n-word” itself become to radioactive to mention? And what will we say then? The “n-w”?

  5. “Two weeks later, Mason wrote to Brown, giving an account of the incident that disputes the precise words and context in which Brown used the n-word. ”

    Judging by the timeline, something else was on the agenda. The principal wanted to get rid of the teacher.

    Now he had his excuse. But the teacher did not go quietly into the sunset, as the principal expected.

    Hopefully, the principal will be publicly shown to be the idiot that he has demonstrated so effectively.

  6. I am so sick of this whole “more sensitive than thou” one-upmanship. It has cramped the style of discussion even here in Hawaii. In Hawaii, at one time, “everybody is fair game, and we like it like that”.
    Make women cover their knees and well-turned ankles will arouse. Make “retard” off limits, and “special” becomes the replacement insult.

  7. Walter E Wallis says:

    As long as we allow racial identification when it benefits the student, we will always be a racist society. In 1949, my military orders had a separate classification for Negros. In 1951, when I returned from Korea, that separate classification was outlawed. CLASSIFICATION BY RACE SHOULD BE ILLEGAL, it is already immoral.

  8. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    The genius principal would most likely have a problem with students discussing “Huckleberry Finn” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

  9. I wonder how he would react ( because I know it would not be ‘response’) to my anti homophobia lesson when the kids call out the words ‘fag, dyke, lezzie, queer’ etc. in my own district nothing happened actually because my school board in Vancouver fully supports diversity and anti homophobia lessons.
    In fact I had a one-man show from our local Fringe come perform his play. It was called “nggrfg” about his growing up as a gay black man in small town Alberta. Wonderful show every student should see.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Feigned offense is a useful technique because society responds to it. Not too early to teach the kids about it and its varied applications.