"Things that interfere with writing well: Earning a living, especially by teaching."

-William H. Gass

Thursday, December 02, 2010

uh oh

I hear it all the time. The sixties are over. We have a black president, how can you possibly still be talking about segregated schools, this is America! We've come a long way. Racism only exists in the South. It's all just because people want to live in different neighborhoods. Etc. Etc. Etc.

People seem to think that racism is "dead" or at least only visible in tiny pockets, somewhere in the deep south. This is a nice idea, but racism has a new face and people in the northeast love to ignore it. In the interest of offering another point of view, I offer the following story...(the names are fake because I don't want to get in trouble).

On Tuesday of this week a student threw a big rock at another student and shoved a teacher, hard, in the chest. He is a very nice young man, this student, but he also has a learning disability that makes it very difficult for him to adjust to new situations. Since he was on a field trip that day, and suddenly things didn't go as planned, he freaked out. He was taken home and suspended for one day. The teacher wrote it up, filed it, and we haven't said much about it since. This particular student has made terrific progress over the years, and these incidents are pretty rare. Let's call this student "Frank".

Another student has a mouth like a sailor and a bad attitude. I, of course, love him to pieces. He is constantly threatening to kill me, sue me, smash my windshield, and it is a joke and I know it. It's his own socially inept way it's a show of affection. I guess we have a similar sense of humor. (I realize these statements sound awful, but in context and with the right tone of voice, telling your English teacher, "I'm going to slash your tires if you assign homework tonight" can be really funny). Let's call this student "Ignatius".

Another student, new to us this fall, also has a mouth. He is incredibly impulsive and energetic and constantly getting in arguments with one of his classmates. He makes verbal threats in a menacing tone of voice and then laughs hysterically, which several of his classmates find very funny and a few others do not. He is constantly moving and has one of the worst cases of ADHD I've ever seen. He and a few other boys have gotten into scuffles but nothing serious and he has yet to be suspended. Let's call this student "Homer".

For the past few weeks, a teacher, we'll call him "Geoffrey", has been pulling teachers aside and complaining about Homer's behavior. He says things like, "He is going to be a behavior problem, I can see it coming" and "We need to get him out now before we're in a legal mess" and "He doesn't belong here" and "We can't handle this here" and the like. He has spoken at length to several faculty members about how worried he is about Homer and how concerned he is for the other students.

Oddly, Geoffrey hasn't ever mentioned that Ignatius and Frank ought to leave, even though their behaviors are very similar, and in Frank's case distinctly worse. So...what gives?

Homer is black.

Now, is it Geoffrey's malicious intent to kick the only student of color out of our school? Probably not. Is it the result of an implicit bias that Geoffrey has not had the occasion to reflect upon? Probably. Is anyone going to react well if I bring this up at faculty meeting? Definitely not.

What would you do...?