An Arizona middle school is facing scrutiny from the community after several white students were recorded making racist outbursts in class, using the n-word during a lesson on the civil rights movement.
According to Phoenix news station KNXV-TV, the principal at Mountainside Middle School in Scottsdale said the incident took place during a history lesson that was intended to teach kids about why the term is, “racist and offensive.”
An educator was teaching students about a 1957 incident at a school involving a Black student and a white student, and the lesson included quotes from primary sources which cited the use of the racial slur.
Unfortunately, the teacher’s attempts to instill tolerance backfired when some of the white students in the class started yelling out the n-word to the dismay of their minority classmates. The disruption was recorded on video and then circulated among the student body.
“Everybody saw it,” said Essence Winters, an eighth-grader told the station. “They took it for a joke. They thought it was okay for them to say it, like the one opportunity that they had, and all around my school, I hear people throwing out the word like it is okay — and it’s not.”
Winters says many white classmates relish the excuse to use the racial slur on social media or when they’re quoting from rap songs, and this just provided them with another excuse.
“Did they really effectively learn the lesson, or did they just make a mockery of something?” asked Eshekiah Herron, Essence’s mother.
After parents raised concerns with the administration, the school sent out an apology letter two days later. It said that the lesson was taken from a Stanford Education supplement with excerpts from the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize. The intent, officials said, was to teach why the racial slur is offensive.
The letter said in part:
“The teacher spent a great deal of time setting up this lesson so students were prepared for the actual quotes used in this incident. We recognize the use of the factual quotes was not the way to teach this lesson. The quotes with the ‘n’ word made a lot of our students feel uncomfortable and offended. We apologize for putting students in the position of using these factual quotes with the ‘n’ word. We will change this lesson and still uphold the purpose of this lesson to teach our students how racist and offensive the ‘n word is. “
Herron said that teaching about the n-word isn’t the problem, but context is important and knowing how Black students would be effected should be considered.
“This is a place of learning, not a place where kids should feel humiliated or hurt after a lesson has been taught,” she said.