How many people know the derivation and history of the “the n-word” and why it came to be used as an ethnic slur? In this historic time, filled with extreme hate speech and overt acts of violence by white supremacists, neo Nazi groups throughout the country and right here in Ithaca it is time for our schools and educators to have the courage and commitment to educate their students by embracing curriculum concerning the “N-word”.
Over the years, working as an Alternative Instructor for the Ithaca City School District, I have taught students off of school grounds who have been suspended for responding to being called the “the N-word” by assaulting and sometimes breaking bones of the students who used this disparaging racist insult. In these cases, is suspension preferable to prevention? I believe not. This is why I encourage ICSD and all parts of our education system to have the audacity and foresight to take a different approach to dealing with this issue, by giving students tools of prevention that will benefit them as they move through life encountering a variety of people.
If we educate students about the N-word” and other isms that affect members of our community, this knowledge would give students strength from within to respond in a non-physical way to the denigrating use of the word and walk away because they understand the word’s history and that it is not a reflection on who they are as a person. Discussion of the word in a safe environment with an individual(s) who has training in this subject matter would also give insight to students who are using the word that it is unacceptable. To continue saying the “N-word” doesn’t work through the issues in a productive way. Saying this six-letter word leaves students who are most vulnerable to being sucked in to being tormented by people who are out to hurt them emotionally.
It is long overdue for our schools to stop fearing constructive discussion of the “N-word”, and to show leadership by becoming a model school district for other districts to emulate. If we are to move forward in this country, it is imperative for school districts to connect history that is not written in textbooks to situations that students encounter in everyday life and give them the tools for the emotional and intellectual strength to move forward in a constructive manner for life. Knowledge should not be feared. Education is not just about standardized tests. Education is part of everyday living.
Please see: “Straight Talk about the N-Word” from nonpartisan organization Teaching Tolerance: tolerance.org/magazine/number-40-fall-2011/feature/straight-talk-about-n-word.
Barbara C. Harrison
Ithaca, New York