The N-word: District 65 rolls out new curriculum.

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

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.