There are many circumstances where the use of the n-word is necessary for driving the conversation forward, and sometimes, this is in a classroom setting. The use of inflammatory language in the classroom, specifically the n-word, has always been a heavily debated topic. While there is good reason for discouraging the use of certain words in many settings, the classroom should not be censored.
A classroom is a place where learning, development and mental growth take place. It is a space where students not only absorb new information, but also develop aspects of their personality. The classroom is a safe place for an open exchange of ideas to happen. Without the classroom, discussion is only limited to everyday life and social media — and we all know how nasty and uncontrolled social media can become. These mediums are not conducive to addressing a sensitive topic such as racial slurs.
In exploring certain topics, the use of the n-word can be a necessary tool to drive the material being taught. To Kill A Mockingbird, for example, is a classic piece of literature and a valuable mean to not only understand the intricate literary works of our culture, but also the social atmosphere of our country during the Jim Crow era. But because of the inflammatory language, the book has been banned from many schools and is no longer read in many classrooms.
Does the desire to protect children from exposure to certain words rob them of the opportunity to explore works and ideas without constraint? I think so. The reality is, students are going to be exposed to the n-word in some way. They may hear it in the music they listen to or a movie, or a show they watch. The notion of protecting students from the word is irrational. If they are going to encounter the word through mediums that are more or less fruitless, why should they not be exposed to the word in a setting where they can actually gain insight?
The more important discussion is under what circumstance is the use of the n-word considered beneficial to the learning process as a whole? If it is okay to use the n-word in the classroom while reading a literary piece, is it also okay for a professor to use the n-word freely while discussing a topic on free speech?
Should use of the n-word in the classroom be wholly permitted without guidelines to ensure tasteful use? Teachers have a responsibility to present students with different perspectives on any topic so that students develop a holistic understanding.
It is important for the person conducting the lesson to examine their purpose for using the word and make sure that the decision they make is in the best interest of their students’ mission to learn. There should never be an absolute ban of the n-word in classrooms, but there should be an understanding of the history and implications of the word and a desire to utilize the word in good judgement for the purpose of productive education.