White Teacher Files Lawsuit After Suspension for Using N-Word

Lincoln Brown thought he was appropriately teaching history and feels that his civil rights have been violated. 

Posted: 02/21/2012 01:00 PM EST
Lincoln Brown

 A 48-year-old Chicago public school teacher thought it was okay to use the “n-word” as a part of a history lesson and, after landing a five-day suspension from his job, he’s now filing a federal lawsuit, claiming his civil rights have been violated.

Lincoln Brown, a 21-year veteran teacher and native of Chicago’s Hyde Park, used the word while teaching a sixth grade lesson on the pitfalls of racism. After discovering a note citing rap lyrics that had the slur written on it, Brown thought he had found the perfect opportunity to teach a lesson about racism in the context of Huckleberry Finn.

In what could be called the worst timing, the school’s principal walked in just as Brown said the “n-word.” In his version of the story, Principal George Mason disputed the context in which Brown used the word and charged him with "using verbally abusive language to or in front of students,” a violation of the Chicago Public Schools’ policy.

Following a disciplinary hearing, Brown was suspended for five days without pay. In a recent lawsuit, however, Brown names Mason, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and the Chicago Board of Education, saying his first and fifth amendment rights were violated.

"It's ridiculous to believe that sixth-graders aren't exposed to this language, not only in music but in their everyday lives," Brown told the Sun Times. He also claims that the stress caused him to have high blood pressure and sleepless nights.

In December, an Atlanta teacher resigned after trying to correlate a math lesson with slavery and, just last month, a metro-Detroit teacher came under fire for asking students to participate in a slavery role-playing lesson.

Cases like Brown’s and others make us ask, “Is there an appropriate way to teach slavery?”

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