When Ms. Lawson arrived to teach at Greenstown, she adjusted well to her new teaching environment. She had undertaken various measures to demonstrate her commitment to racial equity and the students seemed to respond positively. Unfortunately, one afternoon, Ms. Lawson overhead a White student use the n-word with an African-American classmate – Reggie. When she confronted the students, Antony who had used the word explained that he did not think he had anything wrong. In fact, he went ahead to say that he was using the word as a term of endearment. Amidst the conversation, Keisha an African American young woman interjected and expressed that it was no term of endearment but racism. Ms. Lawson shouted Keisha down as she turned to Reggie, who seemed more uncomfortable at the attention. The matter ended with the start of the class bell, and Ms. Lawson requested everyone that respect was important as one of the community norms.
Consistently, we take a position and determine whether Anthony’s explanation made his actions less of a problem as well whether there are circumstances in which it would be appropriate for anyone to use the n-word or its variations. We explore at least one alternate way that Ms. Lawson would have eased the tension in the classroom following the incident with Keisha. We further examine at least one way that Ms. Lawson would have checked with Reggie after the incident and analyze whether it would have allowed Reggie to express his true feelings. Finally, we analyze ways that such incidents can be handled in the future providing a step by step method.
Did Anthony’s Explanation make his actions less of a problem?
Freedom of speech including hateful speech is part of the United States and central to the concept of freedom codified in the Constitution’s First Amendment. In fact, freedom of speech and choice is the cornerstone that the United States was specifically formed. Unfortunately, and as Holt (2018) elaborates, hate speech is an evil piece of the American fabric. Consequently, while other slurs associated with marginalized groups such as queer or gay have different meanings, the n-word holds a uniquely baleful position in the American speech. The word is also the longest standing racial word that has always been used to symbolize negative connotations towards the black Americans. Thus, it would be right to say that the n-word is a hateful speech and the constitution protects freedom of speech whether hateful or not. Viewed from this perspective, Anthony’s use of the n-word was hateful speech, but he is protected by the constitution and granted freedom of speech and choice of words. Nonetheless, the use of the n-word caused action; it caused a reaction in Keisha even though Reggie who the word was directed to did not acknowledge feeling hurt raising the issue between unacceptable speech and protected behavior. Holt explains that, throughout history, Blacks hearing the n-word knew that something bad such as shootings, lynching, and whipping among others were almost certain to follow. Consequently, although using the n-word is protected by the constitution, Holt notes that the word intimates and restricts the freedom of its intended targets. Thus, although Anthony explained his action and justified his use of the n-word under the guise, Reggie was not hurt his speech caused action. Keisha was hurt and expressly voiced it although the teacher suppressed her outrage. It is also important to note that, despite Anthony’s explanation, the use of the word in the classroom caused some profound effect. Alongside Keisha, it is possible that other students were offended especially those who were African American and may be those who were not.
Are there circumstances that would be appropriate for anyone to use the n-word or its variations?
The problem with using the n-word is that it is usually redirected to the victim to make them feel inferior. Consistently, evaluate whether there are situations that would be appropriate to use the n-word or its variation raises the ultimate question whether the use will not cause some action. Definitely, the answer to this is that using the word is likely to cause the victim discomfort as well as those around them. Along with that, as Holt notes, use of the n-word is likely to seem objective, derogatory, inflammatory, and inciting, which could lead to causing more harm.
How would the teacher decrease the tension in class?
Conflict is a social phenomenon that takes place among individuals and is an inseparable part of the human life (Göksoy & Argon, 2016). Within the instructional settings, conflicts are normal and an indispensable reality of school life. Notably, unless resolved, when conflicts happen, they are likely to cause tension among the groups of people involved. Consistently, after Anthony used the n-word, it caused some tension among the students as well as the teacher. Unfortunately, Ms. Lawson failed to handle the situation amicably causing further tension among the students. In light of this, the teacher could have approached the issue using two methods. The first one is taking control, defuse, distract, and divert the attention of the students from the conflict. According to Pasque, Chesler, and Charbeneau (2013), this strategy involves using authoritative approach to maintain order and assert control in the classroom by delivering a monologue topic. Instead of shutting the students with the hope that the situation would fade off, the teacher would have talked to the class about racism and explain to them why it was wrong to use the n-word on their classmates even if they allowed it. The other way is to turn the conflict into a learning opportunity. Similar to the first proposal, Pasque et al. note that this strategy allows teachers to respond to conflict in a way that will help the students explore the issues and gain a deeper understanding of the material. The role of the teacher, in this case, is to intervene and not to just defuse the situation. Ms. Lawson should have tried to help the students make sense of the racist remark and help them learn from it. More specifically, during the learning experience, the teacher could have split the classroom into two and with Keisha and the group against Anthony’s remarks on one side and Anthony and the others on the other. The purpose was to get the students engage and share their different perspectives with each other. Afterward, the teacher should hold an open discussion where every student must hear the entire argument from each side. The other way would be to invite Anthony to explain to the class why he called Reggie the n-word and explain if he understood its meaning. Along with that, invite Keisha too to express her side but request her to do so calmly and not threaten Anthony. By doing this, Keisha would have let go the feelings underneath, and the teacher would have successfully decreased the tension in the classroom.
Another way that Ms. Lawson would have checked with Reggie
When Ms. Lawson asked Reggie if he was comfortable with Anthony using the n-word on him, he did not speak up. Instead, Anthony confidently explained that he always called Reggie that and he was cool with it. When Ms. Lawson probed further, Anthony was quick to add that it was not a big deal as he nudged Reggie with his elbow. From a critical point of view, the fact that Reggie was uncomfortable as Ms. Lawson probed him might suggest that in a way, he was not comfortable with Anthony using the n-word with him. According to Gorski and Pothini (2014), in some social contexts, targets of oppressive language may feel the need to play along and pretend to be alright. Consistently, in a case like this, Ms. Lawson should have used a better strategy to check with Reggie instead of drawing attention to him in front of the class. In this case, the most suitable way that the teacher would have used is to get Reggie away from the students and probe him if he is comfortable with Anthony using the n-word on him. Withdrawing Reggie from the classroom would have eliminated the unwanted attention that may have manipulated and controlled his response. After getting Reggie away from the classroom, the teacher should have made Reggie comfortable and assure him of confidentiality and protection. Then ask Reggie how he feels about Anthony using the n-word on him and whether he accepts it because he feels that he should play along. The teacher should be supportive too and explain to Reggie that it is not his fault that he is African American and should be proud of his race. Provide information to educate Reggie on why the use of the n-word on him is not cool, and even if he was cool with it, it was not politically correct and should discourage Anthony from using it.
Addressing the use of the n-word in the Classroom
In the English Language, the n-word is unique in that, on the one hand it is seen as the ultimate insult, while on the other it has become a popular term of endearment for the very people who once endured it. Without question, there is significant attention endeared to the n-word, its history, and use. As Lester (2014) notes, currently, the word is being used in documentaries, scholarly essays, entire books, online periodicals, and comedy episodes among others. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to use and discuss the n-word in the classroom, because its discussion makes it necessary to acknowledge it and set guidelines for the students on ways to use it. Nonetheless, failing to address the use of the n-word in the classroom will not solve the issue, and it is necessary to come up with a step by step procedure to address the use of the word in the classroom. Thus, because it can be hard to ignore the word completely, the most appropriate way is to use it openly and follow these steps. Notably, it may be important to inform parents on ways to approach the use of the word in the classroom. The first thing is that the teacher should never assume and desist from discussing race issues. The second step is to ask the students to decide on the most appropriate way to discuss the issue. Based on the demographics of the class, it may be appropriate to discuss privately with African American students before introducing the topic. The other thing is to set rules for discussion and forbid the students not to use the n-word for name calling or as a way to look down on Black Americans. Do not allow one individual to be the spokesperson for the whole group. The teacher may also invite experts or community leaders to share with the students their perspectives. In case the class is reluctant to participate in the discussion, have them express their opinions through journal entries or anonymous writing. Lastly, it is always important to let the students know your feelings and explain the importance of exploring the topic.
Overall, the use of the n-word has recently become popular as scholars, documentaries, essays, and other periodicals use it in writing and speech. Unfortunately, historically the word has been viewed as derogatory, insensitive, and insulting to a particular race – the African American. In the article, “Terms of Endearment,” whether Reggie was offended by Anthony’s use of the n-word or not, it was clear that Keisha was offended and a probability that others were offended too. Unfortunately, despite her earlier instructional preparation to handle a diverse classroom, Ms. Lawson failed to handle the situation amicably. As educators, it is important to be fully equipped with strategies to engage students when such issues occur as the failure to so condones bias and injustice.
Göksoy, S., & Argon, T. (2016). Conflicts at Schools and Their Impact on Teachers. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 4(4), 197-205.
Gorski, P., & Pothini, S. G. (2014). Case studies on diversity and social justice education. New York: Routledge.
Holt, L.F. (2018).Dropping the “N-Word”: Examining How a VictimCentered Approach Could Curtail the Use of America’s Most Opprobrious Term. Journal of Black Studies, 1-16.
Lester, N. A. (2014). The N-Word: Lessons Taught and Lessons Learned. Journal of Praxis in Multicultural Education, 8(2), 1-42.
Pasque, P. A., Chesler, M. A., Charbeneau, J., & Carlson, C. (January 01, 2013). Pedagogical approaches to student racial conflict in the classroom. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 6(1), 1-16.
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