Friday, June 20, 2008

California Teacher Fired for "Afro-centric" Lessons

This is disgusting. Karen Salazar, an English teacher at Jordan High School in Watts, was fired after administrators determined that her lessons were "Afro-centric" and inappropriate. Salazar used excerpts from The Autobiography of Malcolm X and rap lyrics in her class and encouraged students to become politically active. The administration isn't talking, so there aren't a lot of specifics on what they found objectionable, and I'm sure they're scrambling to cover their asses with something halfway plausible. Ms. Salazar was well liked by her students, she has a Master's degree, and her mentor teacher gave her positive evaluations. What more could a school ask of its teachers?

Other bloggers have covered the details of the case and commented, so I won't rehash the basics, other than to add my voice to the outrage.

I spent a very brief time in Watts during my training for Teach for America. While the school building was terrible and the instructional materials ancient, the master teachers and administrators who oversaw our training there were passionately committed to their students and saw education as political activism. Obviously, I didn't meet the administrators at Jordan, who seem to have their heads up their asses.

It should go without saying that teachers should teach students how to apply critical thinking skills to everything, even the curriculum in front of them. Isn't that what college-level work is all about?

The most odious thing about this case is that it lays bare the destructive assumption that "standard" histories of the United States or canons of literature are not themselves political constructions. It reminds me of that fight in Philadelphia a few years ago when white residents got angry about the new African-American history requirements for high school students. The assumption is that the "basic" history is a military-political history of the nation state and anything else is pandering to an interest group. "Literature" means English novels and romantic poetry, and anything else is godless commie propaganda. I know I shouldn't be surprised by this ubiquitous type of dumbassery, but it still gets under my skin.

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