Michigan Teacher Suspended for Showing Video on Segregation and the Use of Black Face

There is a troubling case in Michigan where Alan Barron, a public school teacher at Monroe Middle School, has been suspended for teaching an eighth grade class on racial segregation and discrimination that included a video discussing how white entertainers would once use black face paint. The lesson by Barron, 59, also included discussions of Jim Crow. While the notion of academic freedom is different in elementary and middle schools than on the graduate level, it is still troubling to see such a suspension reportedly based on the simple depiction and discussion of such forms of discrimination. There is no indication that Barron was doing anything more than showing the practices, which are still commonly referenced in books and even contemporary politics. Indeed, we continue to see cases involving black face arise and this lesson gave students background understandings of such controversies. (He has now been reinstated).

Barron is set to retire this year after 36 years in the district. Parents and students objected that the lesson was interesting and accurate. However an Administrator who sat in on Barron’s class said that it was offensive.

Barron also is supervisor of Monroe Township.

My concern is that this teacher was suspended on what appears the reaction of this one supervisor. Teachers on every level need to be able feel some flexibility in teaching such subjects. History is a particularly important subject in the shaping of citizens. They need to know our checkered history on race and such videos visually register with the students. Indeed, the students found the class to be extremely valuable. To curtail such history to avoid potentially unpopular or uncomfortable subjects is a myopic and self-defeating act in my view.

What is missing from these stories is any indication that the supervisor’s actions will be reviewed or at least explained.