The N-word: District 65 rolls out a new curriculum around the Context, History, Identity, Lived expe
On October 10, the Democratic Party of Evanston and the Evanston Township High School (ETHS) speech and debate team sponsored Fighting Hate Speech in the United States, featuring speakers from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Illinois Holocaust Museum, and Evanston's own Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan.
Speakers addressed the insidious varieties of hate groups and hate speech (including anti-Semitic, racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ), which have all risen dramatically over the past several years.
Logan, a fifth-generation Evanstonian who was born and raised in Evanston's 5th ward, spoke about a new curriculum his company Logan Consulting Services (LCS) has developed with Dr. Durene I. Wheeler for Evanston/Skokie School District 65, which will roll out starting this Monday, to teach students about the N-word.
The LCS N-Word Project for D65 is a compilation of resources and services to support adult and student learning around the context, history, identity, lived experience, and language associated with the N-word. This includes an Educators Curriculum and Resource Guide, a 1-hour orientation for educators, a half-day inservice for educators, and a half-day seminar for parents/caregivers.
Logan has more than 20 years of experience as a consultant, coach, and educator focusing on leadership, diversity, and cultural competency.
He told the audience the story behind how this new curriculum came about. Here's the transcript (slightly shortened) from his presentation.
"When you are called a N----r, you look at your father. Because you think your father can rule the world. Every kid believes that. And then you discover that your father can’t do anything about it. So, you begin to despise your father and you realize, Oh, so that’s what a n----r is."
That’s a quote by James Baldwin, famous author and activist.
The N-word. Our country has never existed without it. It may be the most lonely, controversial, powerful word in the English language. The N-word endures because racism against Black people endures. And to expect children to understand history of the N-word is a ridiculous, irresponsible, and even dangerous notion.
The N-word is just one form of hate speech in our country--and in Evanston. Hateful language spoken by our children here in District 65 and Evanston Township High School is prevalent. Last year alone, in District 65, K-8, here are some of the things that our children were--and are--saying:
"I want to know why Black children come to this school. This isn’t your school."
"You dumb Black boys, you chimpanzee, monkey."
And this speech is not directed just to Black children.
"You stupid Chinese boy, you can’t even speak English."
"Can you see out of those slanted eyes? They’re so small."
And to Latinx students: "A wall will soon come up, and you will have to return home."
These are words that children hear in our schools. Mostly at elementary school.
And it's not just in our schools. In March 2016, Northwestern University's Alice Millar Chapel was vandalized with swastikas and homophobic language.
In 2016, at the Evanston Public Library, a copy of the Koran and seven book of Islam were defaced with swastikas, homophobic slurs, and other offensive graffiti.
Approximately a decade ago, when my two sons were in third and fifth grade at Washington School here in Evanston, my third grader came home and asked, 'Poppy, why are all the 'People of the Week' white kids? Why aren’t any of them Black?' He was in third grade!
My fifth grader at the time came home and told me that when he was on the playground tussling with another kid over a ball, the kid looked at him, snatched the ball away and said, 'You n----r, gimme the ball.'
He came home and told us, his parents, and to his credit -- we teach our kids don’t react or respond, don’t get caught up with a reaction to that -- and he didn't. He came home, we talked it over as a family, and my wife and I went to the school to speak to the principal to advocate on behalf of our children--and other children as well. And to the principal’s credit, she acknowledged that this is a problem.
But the problem goes way deeper than that. We have a problem with staff, we have a problem with parents, we have a problem in our District, and it’s just a reflection of some of the problems we have in our city.
The principal did not quite know what to do address the situation. So, we requested that the other family come to the table so we could talk about, we could learn more about that child who said that word, why he said it, and hopefully it would be a teachable moment.
But the other family refused to come to the table. It was my wife, myself, and the principal. And mind you, the other child was Latinx. So, the principal said, 'You know, I’m at a loss as to what to do. Do you have any thoughts?' She really wanted to have a dialogue at school. She wanted to have some courageous conversations.
So, we started a courageous conversations series at Washington Elementary School. And with this, we engaged parents, leadership, staff, and students in discussions and dialogue--not only about the N-word, but about race, diversity, gender, sexual orientation, different abilities, and different styles of learning. This became the basis for the District’s Navigating Diversity series, based on the work that was happening at Washington School.
Fast forward a decade, and my colleague and myself have developed a curriculum and a resource guide for educators in District 65, for pre-K through 8th-grade educators. We created it with feedback from leadership, from administrators, from parents, from teachers. We aligned it with the District's equity statement, we aligned it with common core standards, we tied it to social-emotional learning and a focus on academic rigor. So for educators who feel, you know, 'the N-word is not my thing,' or, 'I’m tired of the diversity stuff,' well, we’re talking about learning, and these are teachable moments.
So, we created a guide that provides resources for adult learning on the history of the N-word, the history of racism in America, on white supremacy, the language and power of words, what can or cannot be done to address it, and who should and should not use the word.
There are videos and books and articles and links that educators can tap into to to enhance their own learning, and there are resources they can choose to use in the school if and/or when the situation happens and a child uses the N-word. We’ve provided orientation for the curriculum at all 18 District 65 sites.
For the early childhood students, some people asked, 'So, you’re teaching them about the N-word in Kindergarten? "Are you teaching a first grader how to say the N-word?'
No, that's not what we're doing. It’s really about helping children understand their own feelings and to develop language to articulate those feelings in constructive and appropriate ways.
There’s a book called The Skin I'm In: A First Look at Racism. It’s a developmentally appropriate book around which we developed a curriculum.
In grades 3 to 5 we talk about words that hurt. We use a book called Ruth and the Green Book. It's about Jim Crow laws and segregation.
From 6th through 8th grade, we focus on hurtful words and images so children can explore the N-word, the history of it, and the current use of it. They can have debates, discussion, and dialogue--not only from their own lives, but based on research, articles, academic rigor, and learning stands to enhance their own learning.
As I researched and read the literature, I tried to make sense of it for myself, to understand how I could articulate it to educators. It's a big task. What emerged was a model called the CHILL model--it's an acronym--for understanding the N-word:
Context (the context in which language is used);
History (the history of racism and white supremacy in our country);
Identity (particularly racial and ethnic identity development and how that impacts both the perpetrator and the target of these words);
Lived experience (depending on our age, depending on where we were raised, that's going to shape how we see the N-word, if we feel it's appropriate or not); and the last one
L for language (the power of language, because words have no meaning; we give the words meaning; our lived experiences give words meaning; our history gives words meaning; our identities give words meaning.
The N-word is indicative of deeper issues, yet at the same time becomes a diversion from examining them. But we want the word to provides us with an opportunity for learning. And the learning about the N-word is not focused on the N-word per se; it’s focused on history; it’s focused on language; it’s focused on identity. To focus on the N-word on its own is insufficient. It has to be dealt with in a much broader context, as does a lot of hate speech.
By a show of hands, how many of you all have been targeted by hate speech? Look around; you’re not alone. Oppression and all the 'isms--they connect at a core level. The language conveys thoughts, beliefs, and values. But those thoughts, beliefs, and values can also be conveyed by other words, and in other ways: they can be conveyed through our actions; through policies; through financial institutions; through government agencies.
The fact is, people can be called the N-word, any word, without the word ever being used.
It comes through various forms of micro-aggressions, micro-insults, micro- invalidations, micro-assaults. There are many people in Evanston who feel they're being called the N-word--without the word ever being used.
What does that look like?
The reading and math scores of Black children in District 65, and how many levels below white children they are.
The 5th Ward being the only ward in Evanston without a community school.
The great funding disparities between the new state-of-the-art Robert Crown Center and the Family Focus building in the 5th Ward.
What does that look like?
The closing of Community Hospital, the Black hospital in Evanston.
The closing of the Black YMCA.
The great, and deep, and clearly demarcated racial and class segregation in Evanston.
In third grade, my son asked about the 'Person of the Week,' and 'Why do we always learn about the pilgrims?'
Well, last week he was at Subway, and a white woman gave me him a candy wrapper that said 'negro' on it. He was the only person of color in the store. She gave it to them and said, 'Oh, here, this is good luck for you.' And she proceeded to lecture him about how 'Your people volunteered to come here,' how 'Slavery was a good thing for you all.'
That’s what the N-word looks like and feels like without ever being called the word.
In closing, I quote Dick Gregory, comedian and civil rights activist. He said:
"You didn’t die a slave for nothing, momma. You brought us up. You and all those Negro mothers who gave their kids the strength to go on. To take that thimble to the well while the whites were taking buckets. Those of us who weren't destroyed, got stronger. Got calluses on our souls, and now we’re ready to change a system. A system where a white man can destroy a Black man with a single word. N---r. And when we’re through, mama, there won't be any N---rs anymore."