My church teaches, and I agree, that God intends His kingdom to be inclusive of all races and ethnicities. We have had sermons, classes, book study groups, and other teachings on Biblical evidence that God wants us to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ without regard for race or ethnicity (e.g., Galatians 3:26-29; Leviticus 19: 33-34; Acts 17:26; and many, many others).
The rest of this Blog is a repost of something I published elsewhere. It assumes that racism is wrong and that it is our obligation to teach anti-racism to our children in school.
Bad Language and Bad Policy
In a local school district a school employee (not clear if a teacher or a playground aide or other staff member) was supervising students on the playground. The employee heard one of the students use a word that is a racial slur.
For the sake of this illustration let’s pretend that the word “lemonade” is a racial slur. To my knowledge it’s not really, but if it is and I just don’t realize that, I sincerely apologize. This is just supposed to be an illustration.
The school employee (according to news accounts) is now suspended and likely to be fired because s/he repeated the bad word and redirected the children to stop using it.
So (for this illustration) let’s imagine that the employee said, “Did I just hear someone say the word ‘lemonade?’ Boys and girls, we shouldn’t use that word because it is very hurtful to some of us. Let’s use our words to be kind rather than hurtful to others.”
Imagine that some 5-year old, in a 5-year old way, who maybe wasn’t paying much attention right away but now really wants to know, blurts out, “What word is the bad word?” and the school employee says, “The nasty word is ‘lemonade.’ It is really a very hurtful word to some people so I don’t want to hear anyone repeating that word again,” and the inquisitive 5-year old says, “Okay!” and the children all nod and learn the lesson about hurtful words.
For this interchange, the school employee is going to be fired, because school policy prohibits school employees from using OR REPEATING racial slurs, and this employee violated that policy not once but twice in that brief playground interchange.
What’s wrong with this picture?
As somebody who once was a classroom teacher (though not of children but of adults) I can’t even imagine how you could teach people (not even fairly savvy grown-ups, let alone young school age children) what NOT to do unless you can tell them what it is that they shouldn’t be doing.
Wouldn’t it be worse if the school employee had (1) assumed that they heard somebody use a bad word without verifying whether they’d heard correctly or not, and (2) then tried to tell the students not to use that word, but when asked, “What word?” had to say, “Oh, I can’t repeat it, but I don’t want to hear you using it either?”
Would the students have learned which word not to say if the teacher hadn’t been able to tell them? How would they have learned that?
The school needs a more robust policy that allows school employees to actually TEACH which words are hurtful, rather than prohibiting them from even telling students what they did wrong when they use one of the hurtful words.
My belief that one needs to mention the word, ‘lemonade’ in order to explain to students that they shouldn’t use it does not make me a racist. There is a use-mention distinction not captured in the current school policy.
I’m most definitely NOT endorsing USING the word ‘lemonade’ if it is a racial slur. But telling young children not to use the word ‘lemonade’ because it is hurtful to others is not the same as actually USING the word, e.g., if I were to call somebody a “big bucket of lemonade” or (as children sometimes do) making jokes about “lemonade” or imitating popular entertainers who sing songs about lemonade that you can hear on TV, podcasts, etc.
Schools DO need to have anti-racism policies and they do need to teach anti-racism. But they need more robust and better thought out policies than the one this district apparently has.
Being fired for violating the district’s anti-racism policy is likely a career-ending event for that employee, who doesn’t deserve that. What do you think the chances are that they’ll ever get another job working in a school again with that on their record?
We all need to teach anti-racism to the next generation, but this school district needs to think more carefully about how to make policies supporting that end.