Any regular reader of this site knows that I’m not one of those guys that sees racism around every corner. Drawing a Hitler mustache on an Obama photo is not racist, and neither is painting him up like the Joker. “Socialist” is not “the new ‘N-word’.”
The picture included on an 8th grade pre-algebra worksheet distributed at Central Bucks’ Lenape Middle School: Actually kind of racist. The mother, whose son is the only black kid in his class, has a right to be upset with the picture, included on the work sheet by teacher Matthew Curran.
“I couldn’t understand what I was looking at,” said the woman, whose identity the newspaper has agreed not to disclose.
It was a work sheet called “Solving Equations using Multiplication and Division!” and it featured a photo of a black man wearing a straw hat, shirt and suspenders, with his mostly toothless mouth wide open. As if to underscore the man’s stupidity, at the bottom of the picture was written, “NO WAI!!!”
The mother learned that her son, the only black student in his eighth-grade pre-algebra class at Lenape Middle School, was teased by another student when the assignment was distributed.
“One of the kids in the classroom turned around and said, ‘Is that your father?’ ” she said.
Is Curran a racist? I don’t know. You don’t need to be a hood wearing Klan member to do something stupid and insensitive. What’s clear is that this was the stupid and insensitive use of a racist image.
I’m not buying this excuse, either.
Curran reported, through Smith, that he found the image by doing a Google Images search for the phrase “multiply and divide.”
“I chose it because it said ‘no way,’ which is a comment my students make when I require them to show each calculation,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I had no idea that I might offend anyone. I am very sorry for any distress that this has caused my students and the community.”
Of course, the only way to prove you’re really, really offended by something is to bring in an outside group. This is where the mother veers off course and loses a bit of credibility.
Monday night, after meeting with the boy’s family, NAACP Bucks County President John Jordan issued a written statement denouncing the events.
“It brings into question whether all of our children are being provided a safe and fair environment in which to learn. What happened here is unacceptable, and we will take steps to make sure it never happens again.”
NAACP Bucks County Executive Committee members plan to meet with the principal and the teacher involved in the incident at Lenape Middle School “in hopes of amicably resolving the issue,” the statement went on to say.
This happened Saturday, and by Monday she’s meeting with the NAACP? Clearly there need to be repercussions at the school that probably involve firing the teacher. If this incident results in a lawsuit and monetary damages based on looking at a picture and hearing a derisive comment from a 12-year-old, it borders on becoming ridiculous.
And this is outside the realm of what’s reasonable.
She plans to keep her son home from school until she feels as though it’s safe to send him again.
The kid wasn’t attacked. He looked at an offensive thing and someone said something mean to him. The father isn’t mentioned in the story, which is why the other kid’s comment seems especially harsh. But let’s get serious. I think most of us would have been sitting on our asses at home a lot during middle school if we fled every time another 12-year-old said something mean to us. What the teacher did wasn’t cool and will likely result in his firing, and justifiably so in my opinion. But toughen up about the comment, kid. Being offended, even justifiably, isn’t the definition of an “unsafe” situation.
UPDATE: I encourage readers to read the comments to this article. Mr. Curran clearly has a lot of support from the community, and this appears to be a tragic mistake on his part. Still, mistakes have consequences. Seeing the positive impact he’s had on his past and current students, as described in the comments, I don’t know anymore whether his firing would be justified in this instance. From the facts presented by the Courier-Times, it seemed that way. But seeing the positive effect he’s had in getting the kids into learning, I’m not so sure.
ANOTHER UPDATE: I also want to thank the many students from Lenape Middle School for the comments they’ve posted here. They have been thoughtful, reasonable and articulate. My hard line came from the facts presented by the Courier-Times. I appreciate the way you presented the other side of the issue. You have done your school proud, and have changed at least one mind: Mine.
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TaggedBucks County, NAACP, Race Relations
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