Dear Editor: Thank you for reporting on the hateful speech incidents at a Madison school, and on Kirbie Mack’s comments. I have the highest respect for Kirbie. We worked together for many years when we were both City of Madison employees. We were both involved in employee training and I think she has a lot to offer in that area. Since hateful speech is not exactly a new thing in schools, it’s crucial that the district provide teachers and other employees with training in ways to respond to hateful speech by students. Obviously, since the teachers and employees are usually the recipients of the hateful speech, they should have a lot to say about the structure of that training.
Since the purpose of schools is to educate, the district must also think carefully about the students who say the N-word and other hateful words. Punishment that does not teach is useless, but the use of hateful speech cannot be ignored. Why do students use hateful words? Is that what they hear at home? Family may need to be involved. Do they hear it on YouTube or other kinds of entertainment? Do they understand the difference between entertainment and the real world, where you are working with real people? Have they had an opportunity to learn about the horror of Jim Crow and what the N-word meant and means? Are they aware that they will be living in a world where they will be no longer be subject to school rules but to employer rules, and that an employer will not accept the disrespect that teachers apparently have to accept in Madison?
The school district must take responsibility for not only providing teachers and employees with guidance on confronting hateful speech, but must take very seriously the opportunity to provide students with education on the meaning of hateful speech, its history, and the damage they do, to others and to themselves, when they use it.
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