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Marianna, Florida Teacher and Obama’s CHANGE Message – Another Look

subtle photo, eh?

I‘m really too busy to write this, but I couldn’t let this one go. At the heart of this discussion is how journalism, especially re: education, is lacking.

The issue is a Florida teacher who wrote on the whiteboard a racially-insensitive interpretation of Sen. Obama’s mantra of “Change”:

“A Marianna middle-school teacher has been suspended for 10 days without pay after he wrote a racially charged interpretation of a commonly used phrase in the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama.

While some parents and community activists were outraged by the actions of Greg Howard, Jackson County NAACP officials want to gather more facts before the group considers taking action. But some parents feel Howard should be fired.

Larry Moore, deputy superintendent for the Jackson County School District, said school officials determined Howard wrote an acronym with an explanation on a dry-erase board in his class Sept. 26 at Marianna Middle School.

It said, “C.H.A.N.G.E. — Come Help A (N-word) Get Elected.”"

Several bloggers were quick to deride Howard. Joanne Jacobs said:

“It’s hard to imagine worse judgment than using a deeply offensive word to express political views in the classroom. What was Howard thinking?”

Mr. Russo at This Week in Education called him an “idiot teacher.”

Hube calls it “Unbelievable.” He also points out that the left routinely says equally-hateful, or at least equally-distasteful, things and gets away with it – but that’s another issue.

RightWingProf calls it “reprehensible.”

As I wrote on Joanne’s site, there may be more to this story than Tallahassee.com reported.

About 3 weeks ago I was doing a little writing and my pocket buzzed. It was a cell phone text message from an unknown NYC [212] number that said, “Obama’s CHANGE: Come Help A Nigga Get Elected!” It’s a quip that’s been making rounds electronically for some weeks now.

I wrote the following comment:

“I don’t know if anyone is aware of this, but that interpretation of “CHANGE” is, and has been for many weeks, making its rounds via cell phone text messages. I received the text a few weeks ago from a NYC-based number that I’d never seen before.

“What was Howard thinking?”

I don’t know, and I’m not about to guess. I do recognize that there’s a possibility Howard was about to introduce the translation in terms of political communication/memes and thought he’d do it provocatively.

Poor judgment and outright racism/hate aren’t the same things. The article Joanne cited doesn’t provide a bit of context about the incident. Did anyone else notice that the article mentioned nothing but Howard having written the phrase on the board?

Save the vitriol until more facts are in. You might be right anyway, but it’s better to be sure your reaction is justified. Good Lord, even the NAACP is holding off until they know more.”

Things the Tallahassee.com article didn’t bother to mention:

  • What subject did Howard teach?
  • What was the context of the incident? Were they discussing political communication or the effects of indirect, informal political processes?
  • Who brought the issue to administration and why?

I haven’t found that middle school students are appropriately knowledgeable to discuss the finer points of the political process – especially contentious, difficult things like this meme – but it’s worth knowing Howard’s intent. The article never delved into this and the blogs didn’t, either.

Like it or not, this is a message that’s getting around. It’s reality. Fruitful academic discussion includes questions like, “Why is this funny to some people?” and “To whom is this quip directed?” and “What are the risks/payoffs of these informal processes?” The meta question of “So what?” also applies.

These are questions that education journalists and bloggers of all sorts failed to ask.

I recognize that there’s a possibility that Howard was injecting this meme into class discussion. Some teachers like to be provocative; others don’t. If I had to guess, Howard failed to select something appropriate for his audience, was trying to be provocative and blew the delivery/lead-in. He failed miserably.

Think about every group we know – friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. – and ask yourself this question: Which is more common, someone using spectacularly bad judgment or someone being an overt racist in public?

If you live in the same country I do, you’ll have seen far more of the former than the latter. Howard may be a raving racist, but it’s more likely that he’s just a moron.

The newspaper portrayed the CHANGE phrase as Howard’s interpretation, Howard’s joke, Howard The Racist. The bloggers grabbed that baton, ran like hell and never looked back. No one bothered to connect the incident to anything actually happening outside Howard’s classroom. Perhaps Howard has his fingers on the political pulse [however ugly it may be] in a way that the journalists don’t.

If you’d like to argue that the phrase has no place in a middle school classroom, or that it has no academic relevance in a class about anything other than political communication, go ahead. That’s a discussion worth having – and it’s a different topic than whether Howard is a hate-monger.

I may be wrong, but as for Howard, I’d like to get all the facts before bringing down the gavel. Remember, folks: intellectual honesty comes before the castigation.

UPDATE: Right on the Left Coast is, as usual, completely sensible.

8 Responses to “Marianna, Florida Teacher and Obama’s CHANGE Message – Another Look”

  1. Darren says:

    I don’t get *that* kind of compliment very often. Thank you!

  2. Yes, I called it reprehensible — in a comment. I didn’t blog about it, because there just wasn’t enough information.

    But.

    Either way, it’s reprehensible. Anybody with that little sense teaching is reprehensible, if it was merely stupidity (and I’m inclined to think it was). It’s hardly unique, however. Half of the classroom stories I read make me shake my head and think, “What were you THINKING?”

  3. Darren,

    Not a problem – your site is one of my favorites.

  4. Rightwingprof,

    Agreed. It’s definitely not unique, and that might be the worst part of it all.

    I’m eager to hear a bit more about this, though I have a feeling we won’t.

  5. BILL WARNER says:

    MARIANNA FL HAS A VERY LONG HISTORY OF RACISM, TWO NEGRO LYNCHINGS AND THE KKK, SEE TWO OF MY INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS BELOW, THIS PLACE IS BAD NEWS AND THE TEACHER GREG HOWARD IS JUST ONE MORE BYPRODUT OF “Racist Marianna Fl… “Niggers” in 1930′s and in the Schools in 2008″.

    Thursday, December 25, 2008
    32 BLACK BOYS BURIED BEHIND “WHITE HOUSE” AT DOZIER SCHOOL IN RACIST MARIANNA FL, BEATEN BY GUARDS LIKE TROY TIDWELL, MARIANNA SITE OF NEAL LYNCHING.

    Thursday, February 05, 2009
    FDLE SHUTS DOWN ACCESS ROAD TO DOZIER SCHOOL FOR BOYS IN MARIANNA FL, ARE THE 32 GRAVES BEING DUG UP TODAY, WERE GUARDS AT THE SCHOOL LINKED TO KKK ?

    BILL WARNER

  6. BILL WARNER says:

    CHILD RAPE, TORTURE AND MURDER OF THE “BLACK BOYS”
    AT THE DOZIER SCHOOL FOR BOYS, MARIANNA FL, LATE 1950′s TO LATE 1960′s THE “BLACK BOYS GOT IT THE WORSE”. From information obtained during recent phone interviews with former child inmates at the Dozier School for Boys.
    http://www.billwarnerpi.com/2009/02/fdle-shuts-down-access-road-to-dozier.html

  7. nick says:

    he is a kkk person and i dont like him

  8. nick,

    Who is a “kkk person”?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Inspiration, Advocacy, Idiocy at The Core Knowledge Blog - [...] his blackboard for the word “CHANGE.”  What was he thinking? wonders Joanne Jacobs.  I don’t know, responds Matthew Tabor, and ...

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