credit: gutenberg.org

credit: gutenberg.org

I’d surely be doomed at this high school. Via Fox News: 

An online petition has gathered more than 1,300 signatures on behalf of a popular Virginia high school teacher who was kicked out of the classroom earlier this month for using a racial slur.

The petition claims history teacher Lynne Pierce, who is white, did nothing wrong when she uttered the ‘N-word’ during a discussion with her students at Heritage High School in Newport News about racism, derogatory terms and the nickname of the Washington Redskins. Heritage is 90 percent black.

Ah! And how and why did she say “nigger?” Yes. I dare use the actual word rather than the euphemism everyone understands to be nigger. What was the context?

She is a history teacher, she cannot be censored for teaching terms and beliefs that people had throughout history,’ the petition says.

Pierce, a teacher for 40 years, landed in hot water Sept. 18 when a student in her Advance Placement U.S. History class brought up the Redskins and asked her what was the big deal.

‘The kids kept saying, ‘It’s no big deal, it’s a football team,’ Pierce told the Newport News Daily Press Thursday. ‘I said, ‘How would you feel if people had a team named after another group?’

WTKR-TV reported Thursday that Pierce then said to the class, ‘What would you think if someone started a team called the Newport News N—-r?

credit: opinionzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com

credit: opinionzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com

So, the context is that she was actually making the point that using nigger in that way was actually derogatory and possibly offensive. She was, in effect, defending those who take offense at the mere suggestion of “nigger.” Of course they must take offense! Who can be expected to take “yes” for an answer? Consider this example in an article I wrote in 2013: 

My ‘favorite’ story about the word comes from 2002 when Stephanie Bell, a 4th grade teacher in Wilmington, NC mentioned the word [“niggardly”] in class during a discussion about literary characters.  A parent took offense, and despite doing nothing whatever wrong, Ms. Bell was reprimanded.

I particularly remember seeing that parent on one of the evening talk shows.  She was indignant when told what the word actually meant, and demanded that the teacher be fired anyway because the word sounded like ‘nigger.

Of course, in the case of Ms. Pierce, a student took offense, and the principal, acting in the best traditions of political correctness, suspended her.

The school was reportedly still investigating as of last Friday.

A spokeswoman for Newport News Public Schools did not immediately return an email seeking comment from FoxNews.com Sunday.

‘While I cannot specifically address personnel matters, I can share with you that Newport News Public Schools is dedicated to ensuring that our students are educated in a professional, safe and nurturing environment,’ the spokeswoman said in a statement last week to the Daily Press.

‘When a school administrator receives a complaint or concern from a student or family member about possible inappropriate employee behavior, an investigation is launched as all such concerns are taken very seriously,’ the statement added.

But of course! Using “nigger” as Ms. Pierce is reported to have done would make anyone feel unsafe, wouldn’t it? We must make them feel safe and nurtured above all else. Were I the principal, I would have asked a few questions, and discovering the context, informed the student that it was not inappropriate and bade them cowboy up and get a grip on themself. This is why I am not a high school principal.

It’s an issue very familiar to me and my students. I don’t make a point of saying “nigger,” but when it comes up, don’t shy away from it. As I noted in my 2013 article:

Every year, in my honors English class, I teach Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You’d be surprised by the controversies this book has inspired.  Despite T.S. Eliot calling it a masterpiece and Ernest Hemingway calling it the source of all modern American literature, people on the left and the right want to censor or ban the book.  One of the most commonly voiced objections is the use of ‘nigger’ some 219 times in the book.  My students, black and white and otherwise, deal well with the book because they are more than smart enough to understand that language and its use changes over time, and there are few books that are more supportive of the humanity and dignity of blacks than Huck Finn. In a real sense, being upset at Twain for using ‘nigger’ requires one to ignore a book that surely caused millions to think differently about blacks and to change their minds about their place in society. However, the forces of political correctness never rest, and an English professor, of all people, has produced a sanitized edition of the book, removing not only ‘nigger,’ but ‘Injun,’ replacing them with ‘slave.’ Unsurprisingly, Twain scholars are appalled by this, as am I.  Once we begin imposing contemporary conventions on history, we lose the ability to understand history.  In effect, we lose ourselves, for we can no longer tell how we’ve evolved, or in some cases, failed to evolve.

But this is not the only misuse of language involving words.  ‘Niggardly’ has, over recent years, caused a substantial run of bad fortune for more literate speakers.  The word has nothing whatever to do with race–its origin is probably Scandinavian–and means ‘stingy’ or ‘begrudging.

Here’s another story about how easy it is to offend the perpetually offended:

Also in 1999, a college student refused to become educated: 

Student Amelia Rideau is upset that her professor used the ‘N-ardly’ word at least twice: Once on Jan. 25 during a class on 14th-century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, and once in a subsequent class to explain the word’s meaning.  Ms. Rideau was outraged, and is demanding the UW implement a speech code, which would punish anyone using what she described as ‘offensive’ language – including the ‘N-ardly’ word.  She urged the university not to require proof of intent before punishing verbal villains such as her professor.

According to the Star Tribune: ‘Upset about the word’ s similarity to a racial slur, Rideau talked to her professor, who then explained the word’ s background, she said. On Friday, the professor repeated the word and defined it for the class, Rideau said. Angry he revisited the topic after she asked him not to, Rideau began to cry and stormed from the room. On Monday, she brought three black friends with her to the class for support, she said’ (Associated Press, via Star Tribune 02/03/99).

Obviously, some words—various obscenities come to mind—are inappropriate for school use in most situations, but again, context is important. Some terms that might be considered inappropriate for common discourse would be perfectly acceptable in an anatomy or sex ed. class.

Once again we are confronted with one of life’s harsh realities: there is no such thing as a right to be perpetually comfortable. There is no such thing as a right never to be exposed to any word or idea with which we might possibly disagree. By coddling anyone that demands not only a right to avoid having their feathers, eternally set on a ruffling hair-trigger, ruffled, particularly children, we do favors for no one.

For the young and oh-so-sensitive, we do the great disservice of convincing them life is not only all about them, but that they have the power to destroy the lives and careers of others for any slight, real or imagined. For society, we make daily discourse and life a minefield, liable to cause collateral damage to anyone at any time.

Let the words of those that mean to offend speak eloquently of their lack of character and good sense. In the meantime, cowboy up, and learn to deal with life. Far worse is on the way for us all, and if hearing a single word, which is generally derogatory in some contexts, makes us feel unsafe and fearful, well, it doesn’t bode well for our long-term survival, as individuals and as a people.

Somehow I suspect that in a high school that is 90% black, “nigger” might be, upon occasion, bandied about, and I doubt anyone within hearing distance feels the least unsafe or offended. But then again, I’m an old white guy that isn’t prone to take offense, so what do I know?

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