N-Word

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by splendid, Feb 18, 2014.

  1. splendid

    splendid New Member

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    Feb 18, 2014

    I am a new secondary ELA teacher. We are talking about Frederick Douglass and I want to do a warm up with my students where they insert commas into a passage about FD. However, it quotes him using the N-word. Is that okay in context? They are in 11th grade.
     
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  3. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Feb 18, 2014

    This question is probably better directed to your admin. What might be okay or not okay in my school climate might be different in yours.
     
  4. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    Feb 18, 2014

    Can you bleep out the n word? Like use "------" in the text?

    I wouldn't be comfortable using it. But I agree with Caesar, ask admin.
     
  5. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Feb 18, 2014

    I wouldn't mind if we were reading literature and it was said in context of the period in which the book was written, but if it's just a grammar exercise as you mention, I would probably just pick something else to be on the safe side.
     
  6. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Feb 18, 2014

    I'd leave it out.
     
  7. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Feb 18, 2014

    For a grammar exercise per se, I'm with Peregrin: I'd use a different quote from Frederick Douglass - there's no shortage: the man could write - or from someone else.

    For a lesson on incendiary language or changes in word meanings, I'd clear the lesson with administration first, and - depending on the community - I might still hesitate.

    Other than the n-word, what is it that the quote you want to use is driving at?
     
  8. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Feb 18, 2014

    Evidently he used the n-word in several speeches. But there are also plenty of FD speeches and quotes you could use as well as other non-FD passages you could use for punctuation study...I would advise you not open yourself up to scrutiny and criticism by using the quote in question.

    You are a new, non tenured teacher...and if that wasnt enough, if you are white, it's just going to make matters more complicated, IMO. (elephant in the room...)


    As a parent, I'd have questions if this assignment was used with the wrd in question...
     
  9. BumbleB

    BumbleB Habitué

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    Feb 18, 2014

    I agree with considering the context. For a grammar exercise, not necessary. I read a text with my 8th graders that uses the "n-word", but we also study connotation/denotation in association with that text.
     
  10. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    Feb 18, 2014

    I'd do this as well. I taught TKAM and all was well, but the only time they saw the word was reading.
     
  11. Proud2BATeacher

    Proud2BATeacher Phenom

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    Feb 18, 2014

    I wouldn't without talking to your administration and any students that may be offended by it but keep in mind (coming from personal experience) that some of these students will say that they don't mind it when they actually do.
     
  12. LisaLisa

    LisaLisa Companion

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    Feb 18, 2014

    What is the benefit of using that particular quote or sentence? Why are you choosing that one for the grammar activity? I'd think about it that way and find another one that fits the criteria without controversy.
     
  13. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    Feb 18, 2014

    Interesting- I walked in as a history teacher prepared to say "absolutely use it; don't censor history. Life happened." However, reading the other posts, I see their point. SInce you're an English teacher, you have so many other ways you can go and the word is not the point. I wouldn't hestitate to use it it if I were teaching from a historical viewpoint, but it might be unnecessary from an English viewpoint.
     
  14. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    I've just covered the Harlem Renaissance and we're just starting a poetry unit (very short) I plan on using 2-3 poems from the literature book and 2 others. One I had in mind (it's in the textbook) is the poem Incident by Countee Cullins. The N word is used in it, but that is the whole poem's meaning (how that one word had such a huge effect on a child). Up until now I didn't think about asking admin, I'm sure she'd be ok with it. Should I?
    Of course, when we read the poem I will remind the students that it is an offensive word (although they use it all the time, sadly, directed towards each other, in a lighthearted way, which is weird in itself.) And when we read the poem we will just say "N word".
    I'm white (although my child is half black which some students are aware of), and non-tenured.
     
  15. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    I think it makes sense to check in with the principal, yes, Linguist, in case (a) the principal has an objection, in which case you want to know in advance or (b) the principal doesn't object but someone's parent gets knickers in a twist, in which case the principal would doubtless prefer to be forewarned-and-forearmed.
     
  16. swansong1

    swansong1 Virtuoso

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    Feb 18, 2014

    (Little hijack)...Funny story about little kids and the N-word...One of our students was looking at a world map and exclaimed to the teacher, "Miss, look...they even have a country named N-word!"

    Kids learn to recognize offensive words early...
     
  17. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    On the other hand, a student in my class took great delight in pointing out the 'bad word' country on a world map in the hall way until I told him how Niger was pronounced and reminding him he was being disrespectful.
     
  18. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Feb 19, 2014


    I asked my P today and she approved. I explained the lesson, she even wanted to see the poem and asked how the N word would be explained / disclaimed, etc. And it seems that she was satisfied with my plans. I feel better.
     
  19. mr_post22

    mr_post22 Companion

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    Feb 19, 2014

    If your curriculum requires you to.
     
  20. kinderkids

    kinderkids Virtuoso

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    Feb 19, 2014

    It is a word. For some reason we continue to give it POWER. That is confusing to me because in some cases (music) it is used and "accepted" and OK to use. In classic historic literature I guess it isn't ok and you become worried and may be defined as "something" if you quote,read it,etc , for presenting or quoting from an historic document because of a word. Shouldn't in fact that word be presented as a lesson in history? How odd to censor literature because that "word" is a part of it.
     
  21. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    Feb 20, 2014

    Literature is one thing. I'm fine with that.

    A grammar exercise doesn't require any bad language in my opinion.
     
  22. TheMisterC

    TheMisterC New Member

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    Feb 21, 2014

    I would agree here. If the word is present in selected literature, I personally would leave it be and discuss the topic with my students.

    Electing to insert it into a grammar exercise seems unnecessary, but that's just my opinion.
     
  23. kinderkids

    kinderkids Virtuoso

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    Feb 21, 2014

    :agreed:

    I obviously misread in that I didn't realize it was a grammar exercise.
     
  24. greendream

    greendream Cohort

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    Feb 22, 2014

    I completely, 100% agree with you... in principle.

    In practice, however, I stay far away from the N-word, no matter the context, simply to cover my own behind. If people can get fired for using the word "niggardly," then I reckon I can get fired for presenting the actual word, and context won't matter. Context has a way of getting ignored when tempers start flaring.
     
  25. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    I actually decided against the poem with N word in it, even though my P approved it. First I wasn't going to use it with just one class, because they're so immature, they couldn't handle it. Then I looked at it closely, and realized there are lot of others I can use for the lesson.
    That poem is great for showing issues of racism, and it is a poet from the Harlem Renaissance ( that is the connection between the unit of 2 weeks ago and the poetry unit we're doing) but it doesn't even have all the figurative language I want.
    So I'm not using it, and it's better this way. In a different lesson, with different students next year, maybe.
     
  26. mr_post22

    mr_post22 Companion

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    Feb 22, 2014

    If your curriculum calls for you to teach it, by all means. But, if your students cannot handle using mature language, than tell your supervisor and give them an alternate assignment.
     
  27. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Feb 22, 2014

    Here I put on my linguist hat...

    Language itself has power: it is language through which we divide the world into categories, and it is language through which we label those categories and learn the labels that others use - and learn the values that they put on those categories, and not infrequently on us.

    The n-word is highly charged because of its history of use: it was applied to objectify, demean, and subjugate. If similar-sounding words - especially ones with negative meaning - are tainted by association, that's scarcely surprising; language after language shows exactly the same phenomenon. As a white person, I have no more ability to rehabilitate the n-word than I have effectively to forgive those who held slaves, for I have not been in the class offended against. One thinks of the rehabilitation of the word "queer" as a slur-word for 'homosexual': that process couldn't have begun in the hetero community, and it's also the case that "queer" has a much shorter and less pervasive history of evil to overcome. (The extent to which the term probably still makes most A to Z readers squirm is an index of how far the process hasn't yet gotten.)

    The use of the n-word in rap is more complex: it's where dysphemism (the opposite of euphemism) meets in-group language/jargonism meets commercialization. The use of opprobrious terms as in-group greetings or markers is well known in sociolinguistics: one thinks of World War II veterans reunited, slapping each other on the shoulder and addressing each other fraternally as "Y'old son-of-a-..." Employing the n-word serves rap's need to be seen as edgy: it shocks whites but doesn't directly insult them, and the result is ch-ching. (The opprobrious and objectifying language about women serves rap's commercial interests somewhat differently: the intended audience isn't women.)
     

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