Teacher Put on Leave for Using the N-Word in Class Was Just Doing Her Job

The community is rallying around a Newport News high school history teacher who was put on leave because she used the "n-word" during a class discussion about racism. So far, more than 1,300 people have signed a petition saying she did nothing wrong. We have to agree.


It reportedly happened like this. Pierce was teaching an AP U.S. History class on Sept. 18 when the discussion turned to the name of the Washington Redskins football team. Apparently the kids didn't understand why the name sparked such controversy.

"That's like if someone came to Newport News and made a football team, and called them the Newport News Ni--ers," Pierce reportedly told the class. "Both are racist and should not be used!"

So it's not like Ms. Pierce was calling anyone the "n-word"; she was trying to make a legit point about why "Redskins" is an offensive term. She certainly got the attention of at least one of the kids in her class, who at the end of the day reported to administrators that she felt "offended."

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Yeah, like wasn't that Ms. Pierce's whole point? That you should be offended by casual racism as much as overt racism? The argument that "Redskins" is a slur similar to the "n-word" certainly isn't anything new. School administrators should have given her some benefit of the doubt.

So now while administrators investigate, the class, according to the petition, is being taught by a sub rather than a full-time teacher,  and the kids are falling behind. The petition asks the community to rally around the hashtag #ImNotOffended to pressure school administrators to reinstate Pierce.

Now, it probably would have been a good idea for Ms. Pierce to say "n-word" rather than go for the full monty. But she probably wanted to drive the point home, and the n-word is definitely a way to get people's attention. But if we expect our kids to get a quality education -- particularly about racism and U.S. history -- there are likely to be more than a few unpleasant details up for discussion. They, and we, should be mature enough to handle that.

It's also probably worth mentioning that Ms. Pierce is an experienced teacher with four decades of classroom experience. She teaches at Heritage High School, which has a predominately black student body. This is a teacher who has dedicated her life's work to educating kids. Does anyone actually believe her intentions were anything but genuine?

Let's get Ms. Pierce back in her classroom and these kids back to learning U.S. history. Our teachers have enough obstacles in place to keep them from being successful.


Image via Christopher Sessums / Flickr

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