Teacher gets terminated; Twitter explodes but there's way more to the story
Reasonable people can consider all the facts and debate whether or not he should have been fired; too many talking heads are doing the opposite
All of us who opine publicly and use Twitter as one way to communicate with the world are likely guilty of hitting “send” on a quick take that we later realized was based on a misleading headline or a poorly reported story. I know I’ve done it.
I woke up this morning to lots of tweets (from mostly blue-check Twitter accounts) that included this local news link about a teacher from Tennessee who was fired last month by a county school board in a 6-1 vote. The teacher’s name is Matthew Hawn.
The claim I kept seeing as I scrolled was that his termination was either solely or mostly based on his decision to assign an article written by Ta-nehisi Coates and show a video of a poem recitation about white privilege in his class on Contemporary Issues. A tenured teacher of eight years losing their job and baseball coaching position for those two assignments seemed implausible (but not *impossible*) to me— it took me all of two minutes to discover there was much more to the story.
First, here are a few Twitter takes that felt off to me right out of the gate:
Don Moynihan @donmoynThis really seems extreme and a harbinger of what is to come: veteran (and tenured) high school teacher and baseball coach dismissed from school after he assigned a Ta-Nehisi Coates essay and poem about white privilege. https://t.co/3tFpH4g7gl
If you don’t want to take Gilbert’s word for it, all of the documents he references and quotes from are available here because the school district shared them with the local news station.
It seems that some (many?) want to make this story about “cancel culture” and/or the hotly contested “anti-CRT” bills being debated and passed in some state legislatures but both of those claims seem to be wrong. To me, this is the crux of the issue:
Robert Pondiscio, former teacher of 5th grade and high school civics (and my personal friend!) sums up the problem better than I could:
People don’t recognize lack of viewpoint diversity when their side is represented. And if you resist intellectual diversity and demand conformity, it’s an indication that you don’t think your ideas can withstand competition. In this teacher’s case, taking his comment seriously at face value, it’s evidence he’s incapable of even recognizing the legitimacy of another point of view, which is troubling.
Reasonable people can debate whether or not this teacher deserved what happened to him. I personally would like to spend more time looking at all of the materials before I take a definitive stance on this particular case.
But I do know that, despite much evidence to the contrary, I have to hold out hope that most of us are fair minded enough to agree with Pondiscio that viewpoint diversity is essential in education, especially in a high school class called Contemporary Issues. Is a teacher who comes right out and says “there is no credible source for a different point of view” on a thesis like Coates’ in The Atlantic up to the job of educating other people’s children in a public school?
An easy case can be made that the answer is no.