01 Oct 2000 Destroying a Teacher Who Stumbled Will Not Destroy Intolerance, by Michael King
A teacher at Bryant Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia, may lose her job after she allegedly chastised two 4th grade girls for using the “N-word.”
As the father of a second-grader at Bryant, I’m very concerned about the way this incident, which should have been handled quickly and discreetly through the school system, has turned into a community-wide civil rights issue of ridiculous proportions.
On August 30, Cheryl Mewborn, a white teacher at the predominantly black Bryant, broke up two girls in her class who reportedly called each other the N-word. She told them that kind of language should not be used in her classroom, and should also not be used in general. In illustrating her point, she reportedly said that calling each other by that name was denigrating and demeaning not only to themselves, but to everyone else in the classroom – with the exception of her and three Hispanic students.
In her admonishment, Mewborn used the N-word herself. Not the best thing to do, but – in that situation – she was probably more concerned with stopping the misbehaving girls than watching her language. Two students in Mewborn’s class went home and told their mothers that their teacher had used the N-word in the classroom. The mothers, Anita Taylor and Bridgette Johnson, immediately went up in smoke and called the school principal to demand a meeting.
After the meeting, school principal Henry Atwater, who is black himself, determined that a misunderstanding had occurred in terms of what the teacher had said and intended. Atwater said that Mewborn was correcting the two black students who were using the racial slur against each other. In telling them it was inappropriate, he concluded, she mistakenly and inappropriately used the word herself.
Bad judgement? Absolutely. Something that should be punished in some form? Certainly. An offense that demands that Mewborn’s career be destroyed? Of course not!
Unfortunately, the two mothers don’t see it that way. They feel that Mewborn should not only be removed, but that she should not be able to teach anyone’s children either. The pair has demanded that Mewborn be fired, and that her admonishment of the students’ misbehavior doesn’t matter.
No one seems to have given any thought to talking to the students who felt it was all right to call each other the N-word. No one seems be giving any thought to dealing with Mewborn on an intelligent level. No, it seems Taylor and Johnson – along with others in the community – want to make a mountain of this molehill of an issue. Gerald Rose, a self-styled civil rights leader representing the 16-member “New Order,” has injected himself and is fanning the flames.
“We’re here to make sure the Cobb [County] school officials don’t sweep this under the rug,” Rose said. Along with Johnson and Taylor, Rose is questioning Atwater’s judgement, even though Atwater says he handled the situation within the bounds of the school system rules. Mewborn was suspended for three days and reassigned to a new school, but now a petition is circulating to revoke her teaching license.
Mewborn is an 11-year veteran school teacher, but this was her first year at Bryant. She has no similar problems in her past, but that is immaterial to the mob justice of Rose, Taylor and Johnson. All they care about is that they don’t want a white person admonishing the black students for using inappropriate language.
Unfortunately, the intolerance is something that my child is now being exposed to on a daily basis.
I guess this is just one more thing that makes my job as a father harder these days. Even more unfortunate is the fact that many parents are not as introspective about this as my wife and me. Instead, they’ll end up joining the mob justice taking place at Bryant Elementary School.
And, of course, since we feel differently, they’ll come after us next.
(Michael King is a member of Project 21 and an Internet and radio broadcaster in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at [email protected] and http://www.geocities.com/mhking1/.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.