Controversial Curriculum

Illustration+by+Brooke+O%27Flaherty
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Controversial Curriculum

Illustration by Brooke O'Flaherty

Illustration by Brooke O'Flaherty

Illustration by Brooke O'Flaherty

Illustration by Brooke O'Flaherty

Alice Antony and Alejandro Paredes

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The derogatory term referred to as the “n-word” is an ethnic slur targeted against African Americans, commemorating the history of racial discrimination –– from slavery and lynching to segregation and marginalization –– denouncing the use of it in these times. Dating back to the eighteenth century, it is said to be the most divisive word in the English language and is increasing in usage among teenagers today. Its social implications render it offensive but recently, more people refuse to give power to the word and instead throw it around carelessly.

English teacher Greg Raiewski believes, in an academic setting, that the use of the word is important to emphasize its implications and racist meaning. Due to this, he reads “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to his class, despite it being banned in some schools, especially in the South. He has his class watch documentaries and read articles by African-American professors to explain the background of the slur and how it is used in Twain’s novel.

“If we ignore all that, we don’t have a book to talk about. The book’s not about the n-word though. That’s not why I teach it,” said Raiewski. “We’re looking at it because in the context right now of the US, it’s not something we can ignore.”

An anonymous junior notes his experience in Raiewski’s class during their reading of Huck Finn.

“Whenever some kid wouldn’t say it in class in front of their peers, he would question them as to why they wouldn’t say it. Any reason they had he would argue against. He never really took their reasoning seriously and kept arguing with them until he got them to say the n-word,” said the anonymous junior. “I personally never wanted to say it but ended up giving in to peer pressure.”

Raiewski says his intent in doing this is to allow the students to understand the meaning of the word and to remind them to be aware of the power associated with it.

 If everyone’s comfortable reading this book, we’re not teaching it correctly,” said Raiewski. “I’m not requiring people to say it, but since it’s an English class, we’re here to talk about the power of language … I’m not here to tell students what words they can use outside classroom, it’s not my job. But it’s my hope that students will think about those words.”

Many English teachers approach the topic with hesitation due to its controversial meaning, but Raiewski motivates its use with his students. According to student sources, during Socratic seminars, any student who came upon the word and would address it as simply “the n-word” would be questioned in front of the class as to why they didn’t just say the full word.

A source noted that Raiewski had said that several students in his class say the n-word all the time so they shouldn’t have any reason to be uncomfortable with saying it in class.

I think educators have a certain responsibility to approach the line and to introduce those topics, because they’re real, and they’re important. And I suspect that’s what’s happening in this instance.”

— Eric Backman

Principal Eric Backman explains what he believes Raiewski’s intentions are.

It’s a fine line that educators walk, the good ones walk up to it, as you know. And oftentimes, we’re in a classroom where we’re right on the edge, but having really meaningful conversation that sometimes difficult, and sometimes for certain students can be too much, ” said Backman. “But I think educators have a certain responsibility to approach the line and to introduce those topics, because they’re real, and they’re important. And I suspect that’s what’s happening in this instance.”

Former president of the Black Student Union and senior Deja Morrow is working with a school board member to formally address and present the issue to the school board. She discourages the use of the n-word by those who are not African-American and in addition, condemns Raiewski’s use of it.

“A bunch of kids who don’t know the meaning of this word are in his class where an authoritative figure is giving them permission to say a word that affects a lot of the African American students at this school. It’s making my life harder, because this word is going around this school. It may not mean anything to you, because it doesn’t refer to you, [but] it refers to me as a black person. He doesn’t know that being called the n-word can affect you that much. It’s an emotional wound that we have and it’s not healing because we keep getting called it,” said Morrow, who reported seeing the slur written on the board in Raiewski’s room.

Deja Morrow has also been a victim of racism indoctrinated upon students during her freshman year.

“In P.E., that kid [student will be left anonymous] called me the n-word. And I went to the school and [the administration] didn’t do anything about it,” said Morrow.

The Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights has intervened into the matter as well. They will be meeting with Raiewski after the date of this issue’s publication.

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