Monday, February 27, 2012

Whither Murray LA? Poor Judgement (and Poor Spelling) by Principal Mason Ding Respected Teacher

posted by chicago pop

Local 5th and 6th grade writing and social studies teacher Lincoln Brown was recently disciplined by the principal of Murray Elementary Language Academy, Gregory Mason, for using the word nigger in his classroom. Done in an educational context, this is no different from reading Mein Kampf in the presence of Jewish students, or presenting descriptions of Muslim "infidels" in the Song of Roland to students of that religion. Nothing is gained from removing these deposits of reality that run all through our culture for better or for worse. We don't condone them. We study them to understand the world that has preceded us.

As far as I have been able to determine from the press, this is a case of a neighborhood principal making a very poor judgement that affects the career reputation of a long serving CPS teacher. The fact that Mason's written statement conveyed in the Sun-Times is also misspelled and grammatically challenged - cardinal sins for an educator, as far as I am concerned - suggests that the merits of this particular disciplinary action might be in need of as much review as the grammar of his statement. 

The facts appear to be these: 

Lincoln Brown, 48, says he used the n-word in front of his majority African-American class at Murray Language Academy on Oct. 4 last year after one of his students passed a note to a girl with rap lyrics including the n-word.

Brown — who grew up in Hyde Park and has taught in black neighborhood schools for 21 years — “attempted to give his own denunciation of the use of such language” according to the lawsuit filed Thursday.

He discussed the use of the racial slur in Huckleberry Finn in an attempt to show “how upsetting such language can be,” but just as he used the n-word, the school’s principal, Gregory Mason walked into the classroom, the lawsuit alleges.

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. Mason charged Brown with “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” in violation of the Chicago Public Schools policy.

Following a hearing in late October, the principal told the teacher that he would be suspended for five days without pay, the suit says. Brown appealed to CPS, but a CPS hearing officer ruled in December that he had “engaged in inappropriate discussions with sixth-grade students during instructional time,” ordering him to serve his suspension starting Friday.

Mason writes in his statement: “The very insistent (sic) I entered the room, I heard Mr. Brown discussing with the entire class of students on the word, ‘N*****’"  Further, "When Mason returned to the class roughly 15 minutes later, he wrote, Brown was teaching grammar, but “totally off subjected (sic), Mr. Brown asked the students, ‘have you ever thought about why blacks are killed in movies first?’”"

The idea that some words should never be uttered is not a principle of rational thought. It is a principle of superstition, a relic of magical thinking and the fear that words themselves convey actions equivalent to their meanings. In a modern worldview, free of superstition and dogma, we understand that a word carries different meanings based on the context of its utterance. It is the context that we should be aware of, not the word in isolation. Nothing in the context of this case - a context which includes Lincoln Brown's biography and career - suggests that Lincoln Brown was making racist remarks. Again, the fact that a copy of Mein Kampf sits on my bookshelf (as it does) does not mean that I support National Socialism, or that I am a Nazi. The fact that I might discuss features of Nazi ideology, or quote the speeches of Adolf Hitler, does not mean that I am anti-Semitic. Would it be inappropriate to build a class discussion around these issues if students were already discussing them?

The same applies to the word nigger

I don't use this word, though here I refuse to euphemize it, to blank it out with an abbreviation and a hyphen, because this is not how one should deal with the reality of past or present injustices, as people or as societies. Especially not when the word is, as we all know, commonly used by many of the people to whom it was once applied, including children. This is a contradiction that has not been sufficiently thought out in the culture at large, but that is an issue for another day.

Readers interested in showing their support for local teacher Lincoln Brown may add their names to the petition currently being circulated by the group "MLA Parents in Support of Mr. Brown."


tayiah said...

I don't think he should've lost his job over this.

Hey did anyone hear about the new
shop coming called Kiwilis? The owner is a hydeparker and a black woman. This description of her is significant because I think more people on the south side should step up and open businesses, We need more entrepneurs on the south side so we can have more amenities. I think its great not only are we a diverse community but we have a diverse business community as well. She is black so she doesn't stigmatise and sterotype our area like other business owners. Also why is this blogspot so late posting the good news?

chicago pop said...

tayiah - he hasn't lost his job, he's only been suspended for a total of 5 days over a period of several months.

I'm not sure I know what you mean about late in posting the good news. If you have info about this new business that can be made public, feel free to send it to me.

tayiah said...

Go to chicago business. It has the news.

Lilithcat said...

@ chicago pop:

I think she's referring to Kilwin's (not "Kiwilis"). I found an article at Crain's Chicago Business, here.

Matthew said...

This from the Maroon.

Chason said...

Chicago Pop, nothing more need be said on the matter. Your take was absolutely perfect.

Also, an absolutely shameless plug for myself... I tweet incessantly about Hyde Park development, including news on Kilwin's opening in 2013 at 53rd and Harper, the live website for the Hyde Park Hyatt Hotel, and am keeping an eye on such developments as "Julie's South Side Shrimp" which is going to open in the Del Prado. Anyone interested may follow me @ChasonDailey