Trayvon Martin fundraiser: Should teachers not be activists with their students?

A middle school English/journalism teacher says she lost her job because she helped her students organize a fundraiser for Trayvon Martin.

The Pontiac, Mich., students identified with Trayvon and wanted to help to his family so they organized a school fundraiser. Normally the students at the charter school could pay $1 to wear street clothes on certain days. They wanted to wear hoodies up and donate those dollars to Trayvon’s family.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has taken up the Brooke Harris’s case and has started a petition with more than 8,000 signatures so far.

From Yahoo news:

“According the Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance blog:

Harris said while the school’s principal signed off on the fundraiser, Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell said no because of the manner in which they would be wearing the hoods – over their heads. Harris asked Cassell to meet with the students so they could present their case, but Harris was suspended for two days.”

” ‘I was told I was a bad teacher, that I was being unprofessional, that I’m being paid to teach, not to be an activist. When I tried to defend myself, it was construed as insubordination,’ Harris told the Detroit Free Press.

“Harris then returned to school while suspended to drop off prizes for a literacy fair. Harris met with Cassell again and was given a two-week suspension.”

(Later Harris was fired.)

“Cassell said she is a “child of the civil rights movement” and has supported the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center in the past but said “this is not the time in the school year” for efforts that distract from academics, she told The Detroit News.”

So I am very interested to hear what you all think about this. I wonder if the case would be different if the fundraiser wasn’t for Trayvon but for a different cause or if it was a different time of year. It sounds like this school administrator is stressed out about test scores. I know the CRCTs are coming up in Georgia and maybe similar ones are happening in Michigan.

My absolute favorite teacher in high school was a history/political science teacher. I feel like she absolutely encouraged students to exercise their political power and believe they could affect change in the system through their activism. If I remember correctly she was the sponsor for the Amnesty International school club. She also took kids to Washington DC through the Close Up program. I remember meeting this teacher downtown for a protest rally one weekend with another student.

(I think this teacher has been an excellent role model/friend for me throughout my life, long after I left high school. I visited with her in college and as an adult. She came to see Rose after she was born and even advised me on breastfeeding. We exchange Christmas cards and are on Facebook together.)

There are definitely some careers where political activism is not tolerated but I’m not sure a teacher is one of them. As a journalist I know I am expected to NOT comment publically or participate publically in political activism. We never put political signs in our yard, never comment on political issues online and have told our kids whatever we say at home about our political views stays at home.

(I recently warned a college student studying to be a journalist not to comment on Facebook on political issues. She had just “liked” something political. She said it had never occurred to her and thanked me for watching out for her.)

So what do you think: Was this teacher fired unfairly? Should teachers not help students with rallies or fundraisers? Should teachers not express political opinions to their students? Should teachers not promote activism?

53 comments Add your comment

mari

April 11th, 2012
1:08 am

I absolutely believe this teacher should have been fired. She supported a cause where not all of the facts are out yet. What if it comes out that George Zimmerman was actually attacked by Trayvon? What if it comes out that Trayvon was the aggressor? How will it look to have a teacher supporting Trayvon, then? She should have told her students to wait and see what the facts of the case would prove. If Trayvon actually WAS racially profiled, THEN sure, go be activists and do something about it. But what if he wasn’t? What if this case actually has nothing to do with race? What then?

See, that’s the problem with this whole stupid country. Everyone wants “justice now.” But how is it justice to decide guilt without knowing the facts? How is it justice to go and crucify a man, when you weren’t there and you have NO idea what happened that night (not YOU the writer, but YOU meaning everyone who’s jumped on the “lynch George Zimmerman” bandwagon without knowing the facts)?

If only the teacher had told her students to wait and find out the real facts of the case, she’d still have her job.

Mr.Man

April 11th, 2012
2:02 am

Middle Schools, High Schools and Universities arcross this country are marching and taking signatures and wearing Hoodies. The Teacher had every right to ask the board if their school or her class could participate like thousands of schools.

However the Principal said YES and the Superintendant said NO. The Superintendant ALWAYS has the final say. The Teacher should have respected the decison and let it go. What the Teachers and Students do AWAY from the school on their time is THEIR business. If the Teacher chose to do the fundraiser after being told NO then she deserved to be suspended but not fired.

Had Trayvon been WHITE the Superintendant would have been fine with the school taking part.

AndrewSB49

April 11th, 2012
6:16 am

@mari: “But how is it justice to decide guilt without knowing the facts? How is it justice to go and crucify a man”

The shooter decided guilt without knowing the facts. I ask you: How was it justice to go and shoot Trayvon? If only the shooter had taken the advice of the police and not follow the child!

I expect this school doesn’t give classes on Stranger Danger!

shaggy

April 11th, 2012
6:49 am

I have a couple of original thoughts:

Teachers focus your energy on……teaching.
Parents focus your energy on……parenting.

Then, we can all join hands in a circle and sing kumbayah.

AllTheSameColorOnTheInside

April 11th, 2012
7:31 am

Mr. Man….considering the superintendent is black, how does your comment about Trayvon’s race make any sense?

Voice of Reason

April 11th, 2012
7:47 am

I agree that supporting anything before you have all the facts is stupid. So this teacher is teaching students to leap before they look. That is not good teaching.

Unfortunately in today’s society where the main stream media would rather be first than right this kind of problem will continue.

Augusta

April 11th, 2012
8:03 am

I’m tired of the whole thing. There’s only 2 people that know what happened that night, and unfortunately one of them is dead. It’s a white on black shooting, and as long as this happens, the race card will be played over, and over, and over. Not one cry of outrage for two white Brittish tourists gunned down by two black men…….where’s Obama’s apology for that? Where’s the outrage????

Now hoodies are popular and attracting attention. I think you look rediculious in a hoodie….especially when driving, and it’s 80 degrees outside. You just look stupid!!!

MomsRule

April 11th, 2012
8:22 am

I am so sick of hearing about this case. Have a great day everyone!

penny

April 11th, 2012
8:36 am

Mr.Man

April 11th, 2012
2:02 am

Figures an idiot like yourself would bring race into it. Did you know Jacqueline Cassell is black? I submit you, Mr Man, are the racist.

jms

April 11th, 2012
8:38 am

Activism is fine as long as it doesn’t disrupt the job of education or stifle opposing viewpoints.

Raisin Toast Fanatic

April 11th, 2012
8:44 am

Had Trayvon been WHITE the Superintendant would have been fine with the school taking part.

How fortunate for you to have a magical crystal ball where you can tell what everyone else in the world would do or say.

Pure and utter GARBAGE. Thanks for contributing nothing.

DB

April 11th, 2012
8:47 am

Just as journalists have to maintain the appearance of impartiality, I think teachers should be exercising the same impartiality, and encouraging students to think about these issues within a larger social context.

Fundrasing in schools is normally a carefully controlled process. Most schools have fundraisers all throughout the year to benefit various things — the PTA, athletics, etc. And most schools have learned that too many fundraisers stress parents out, and limit the fundraisers to those that benefit the school directly, or to recognized charities.. This is the kind of fundraiser that has the capacity for being divisive and turning into a shakedown — “What, you aren’t donating to Trevon? What are you, a racist?!” It’s a no-win situation with great potential for harm and distraction from learning. I’m surprised the principal allowed it, but I’m not surprised that the superintendent vetoed it. I daresay the teacher flouted several rules by organizing an unauthorized fundraiser, and then turned around and ignored the stricture of suspension by coming by the school, anyway, obstensibly to deliver a prize (as if she couldn’t have given it to another teacher to bring in.)

I’m not going to argue the Zimmerman/Martin case here in the Court of Public Opinion. The question is, should teachers be political activists? Yes — but on their OWN TIME. As a teacher, their job is to teach students by instilling knowledge and fostering a capacity for reasoned judgment. She doesn’t have all the facts in the case — no one does — and the fundraiser, by the fact that it is raising money for one side of this case and not the other — puts the school and the school board in the position of appearing to take sides, i.e., lacking impartiality. In that kind of atmosphere, it’s difficult for other students to have differing opinions or even to have a hope of a reasoned debate on the subject. I understand the teacher wanting to support her students in something they felt passionately about, but she went about it the wrong way, she led them to break rules, and she broke several rules along the way, herself. My question to her would have been: “Is this the hill you really want to die on?” She gave the administration no choice.

John Cruise

April 11th, 2012
8:52 am

I really feel sorry for you guys. I am in the UK, England. Here to carry a knife is a crime, forget about a gun. For you, killing keeps happening every where and what do you do? You want justice instead of discussing how this killing would not happen again. What about Congresswoman Gilbert of Arizona. What have you done for prevention. There was that technic school. You should really think about your right “to bear arms”. I believe when your Constitution was done, the Police were inexistant, no ambulance…, which at the time was understandable to have right to bear arm because you could not call 911 for help. Of course you have those lobbyist who will do anything (pay congress) so they can continue to sell arms and make money. I cannot remember when the last tome someone was killed here in the UK with a gun. Only knives and not much, never this at school. I really feel sorry for you guys. USA & Mexico you are the same, I believe at least 40% of americans over 16 yrs have already killed or attempted to kill someone. You should really do something instead of talking about Travon and forget about him tomorrow.

iggy

April 11th, 2012
8:58 am

Thanks Mr Cruise. If you recall we, the USA, broke away years ago so your comments are irrelevant and stupid.

Andy

April 11th, 2012
9:03 am

I think you should have the facts from all parties involved before you make a decision on what may be right or wrong by an individual or organization. Too, arule, I’d say teachers are in the classroom to teach our young people, and activism in the classroom has no place. If teachers stayed the course in english, writing, math, science, civics, and history maybe our education system would see some improvement.

Omg

April 11th, 2012
9:06 am

Mr.Man

April 11th, 2012
2:02 am
That is a lie!

justmy2cents

April 11th, 2012
9:09 am

I’d be totally ticked off if my girls’ teachers did something like this. Teachers are paid to teach; that’s it. Am I the only one sick of this “it was a white on black crime” statement???? He is Hispanic, for crying out loud!!!! The media is just trying to stir the race pot on this. SMH By that regard, we have a white president.

guest

April 11th, 2012
9:09 am

Teachers should focus on teaching the curriculum. That’s the problem with the schools today, too many stupid teachers are brainwashing our kids with their stupid opinions (usually far left).

Jeff

April 11th, 2012
9:12 am

The role of teachers is to help children be able to make up their own minds. To breach that should be an offense worth at least some form of discipline.

If the teacher had been doing a fundraiser for Mr Zimmerman (the shooter), would it have been appropriate? Absolutely not.

Roberta Higginbotham

April 11th, 2012
9:12 am

@iggy – So, other people’s comments you don’t agree with are “stupid”. Sounds like a classic case of low self-esteem to me.

Believe it or not, there are many people in this world who have opinions that differ from yours. You’d better get used to it, friend.

iggy

April 11th, 2012
9:15 am

Roberta, Im afraid you have stepped in it. You too are very stupid.

jarvis

April 11th, 2012
9:15 am

Half of the story.

homeschooler

April 11th, 2012
9:23 am

Hahahaha…sorry, can’t stop laughing at the comments by Mr. Cruise who was apparently not around London during the riots last year. Or maybe he was and wouldn’t mind having to strip naked when told to by thugs while unarmed police try to maintain some sort of control. Yeah, that “no gun” thing in England is really working out well. Sorry, sir, I can assure you that my husband will never cower to anybody because we Americans have something call pride. I felt sorry for the people who were humiliated in the streets of London. You have no reason to “feel sorry” for us. Plus your comments were juvenile and, well, as iggy said..”stupid”.

Teachers in public school can not and should not share their political opinions because the chance of offending someone is too great. It’s sad and I think it takes a lot away from education (especially of high school students) but it has to be that way. I think they can encourage activism by encouraging their students to stand up for what they (the students) believe in but to share and participate is just asking for trouble. Teachers should teach facts, not opinions.

jarvis

April 11th, 2012
9:23 am

At least 40% of our people over the age of 16 have tried to kill someone?That sounds well thought out.
For anyone interested John Cruise thinks the US has roughly 95 million attempted murders.

iggy

April 11th, 2012
9:27 am

Homeschooler. You just joined the list.

CW

April 11th, 2012
9:28 am

How would the feeling change if the teacher was in support of Zimmerman? Teachers are best to avoid leadership positions in divisive situations.

Augusta

April 11th, 2012
9:31 am

@John Cruise – talk to us when al-quieda blows up another subway of yours….or one of those fancy buses……talk to us when these car bombs are all under control over there. You’ve got bigger fish (and chips) to fry…..

Denise

April 11th, 2012
9:38 am

I wish it didn’t come to termination but I agree that she should have been disciplined. I think it is inappropriate to do fundraisers for anything other than school-related activities. (I don’t care what the fundraiser is for. She could have easily been raising funds for Zimmerman’s defense fund and that would have REALLY had folks in the Black community up in arms, forcing the Superintendent’s hand to fire her.)

iggy

April 11th, 2012
9:40 am

It sounds as if this teacher is VERY VERY Stupid. She has no business being a teacher. I think sanitation worker would be her best option.

Jessica

April 11th, 2012
9:48 am

As a parent, I would be angry if my child’s teacher did something like this. She had no business bringing such a controversial issue into a middle school classroom.

DB

April 11th, 2012
10:06 am

@Mr. Cruise: “40% of Americans over 16 have already killed or tried to kill someone” Where do you get these statistics? By your accounts, almost half of the people the US are killers or would-be killers. Doesn’t that sound a bit bizarre to you?

The Constitution is the framework for our entire system of government — the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is actually based on English common law, deriving from the Assize of Arms of 1181. After being shot at by the British in 1776, it’s not unreasonable that a country would put the ability for its citizens to be able to defend themselves as near the top of the list of it’s rights. :-)

Providing for the safety of the populace while at the same time insuring their individual liberties has always been the challenge. (Britain has had its own share of massacres, btw: the Hungerford and Dunblane massacres come to mind.)

Scott

April 11th, 2012
10:16 am

“I wish it didn’t come to termination but I agree that she should have been disciplined.”

Denise, she was disciplined (suspended for 2 days) but she kept pressing, she was further disciplined (suspension extended for 2 weeks) and yet she still kept pressing.

She either doesn’t understand the word “NO”, or her politics are more important to her than her job.

iggy

April 11th, 2012
10:17 am

She was begging for a pink slip and her request was granted. Im happy for her.

Denise

April 11th, 2012
10:55 am

@Scott, I understand that and I agree. I’m just saying that I wish she would have stopped while she was ahead so that she wouldn’t have gotten terminated.

World Traveler

April 11th, 2012
10:57 am

No, teachers should NOT be activists with their students. Activism of any type is virtually always associated with political ideology. While YOU, TWG, might believe that Amnesty International is a worthy cause, I might believe that serial torturer/rapist/murderers deserve death. I don’t want some teacher filling my kid’s heads with either Right Wing or Left Wing drivel.

Studying activist movements in a history or political science class is perfectly alright. Teaching activism (and, thus, a political or religious viewpoint) is completely inappropriate. And if YOU, TWG, don’t agree with that, then just leave your kid to be taught my political activism stances. When your kid comes home wanting to exercise his 2nd amendment rights and asking for killers to be put to death, I am sure your viewpoint on this matter will take a 180 degree turn.

Madge From Accounting

April 11th, 2012
11:06 am

First – I belive in teacher’s teaching. Politics is a subject; just as Civics and History. The Martin case is a class in all three.

Secondly – I feel I must highlight this part of the column:

Harris asked Cassell to meet with the students so they could present their case, but Harris was suspended for two days.”

” ‘I was told I was a bad teacher, that I was being unprofessional, that I’m being paid to teach, not to be an activist. When I tried to defend myself, it was construed as insubordination,’ Harris told the Detroit Free Press.”

“Harris then returned to school while suspended to drop off prizes for a literacy fair. Harris met with Cassell again and was given a two-week suspension.”

(Later Harris was fired.)

I don’t know where some of the people on the blog got the idea that this teacher “pushed the issue”. It doesn’t say that in this article. The article says that the teacher brought it up to the Superintendent (once) when the Sup said no, she asked the Sup to talk to people in her class (2); She received a suspension. When she went by the school to drop off some prizes, (the article doesn’t say anything about her approaching her class OR talking to her students); She received a week suspension.

No where in the article does it say “She kept PUSHING the issue.”

I have no idea where some of these comments are coming from on this blog – perhaps some of you could’ve benefited from a little more schooling when you were in school………..

DB

April 11th, 2012
12:15 pm

@Madge: I would say that there is a great deal to this case that we don’t know — just like the Zimmerman/Martin case. The fact that the teacher would support this effort in a school in the first place already brings questionable judgment to mind. Her “defense” could have taken many forms — who knows how she handled it and what was said? We don’t.

Madge From Accounting

April 11th, 2012
12:35 pm

DB: @Madge: I would say that there is a great deal to this case that we don’t know — just like the Zimmerman/Martin case. The fact that the teacher would support this effort in a school in the first place already brings questionable judgment to mind.

To me, this is the classic “Scopes Monkey Trial” being played out in 2012. I find it a very teachable moment for every student AND for every parent.

Her “defense” could have taken many forms — who knows how she handled it and what was said? We don’t.

True – so IMO it’s nothing to get upset about, as far as her going “overboard” or “Politicizing” a current event that’s happening right now. I don’t know if some of the bloggers on the blog are more angry at her bringing up the matter, her trying to raise a donation for the family, OR people thinking that she was “Pro” this or “Against” that.

Warrior Woman

April 11th, 2012
2:01 pm

The teacher absolutely was wrong. She attempted to teach her students to make uninformed judgements, which is poor teaching, and possibly to violate the dress code (hoods up on hoodies). The superintendent’s veto is the final word, unless the teacher wished to appeal to the school board.

Then the teacher committed a further wrong by returning to the school during her suspension. With such a short (2 days) suspension, there was absolutely no reason for her to do so.

@John Cruise – The right to keep and bear arms is a constitutionally-protected civil right, so yes, many of us take it quite seriously. Beyond that, your false facts make your rant laughable.

Niki

April 11th, 2012
7:14 pm

I believe that many do exercise their rights as an American to protest and try to make change in our world. I think that because she stood her ground as an American and her duty as an educator to use this moment in time to teach…to give youth a voice. To many children feel that they are not apart of this America, that they can not be heard. They can and as an educator I truly believe we must teach reading, writing, math and civic duties.

WE should applaud any educator that helps our children to have a voice to know that they should not just be silent and let those who have monies or political clout to make decisions for many.

If you are not a person of color and/or economically challenged this may seem silly, why not, why this….We all have had enough of the system that is run by the old guard….older white males, who have been allowed to continue to impose outdated, unjust, and bias policies… People are finally understanding that you have a voice and if you use the system you can be heard.

JATL

April 11th, 2012
8:49 pm

AH -I’m late to the party, but while I think perhaps she shouldn’t have been fired (possibly placed on leave or disciplined in some manner), teachers should NOT take part in fundraisers or events with students that have any controversy surrounding them. As a teacher, you’re just asking for it. If a teacher wants to do something like that, get the kids together to raise money for cancer research or The March of Dimes or the Humane Society or something -not a hot topic news story that has a lot of people angry.

Fresh Spring

April 11th, 2012
9:31 pm

Don’t be afraid teachers ! Stand up and do what you feel is right. THAT is what we teach our kids.

AGAIN …. minders of this blog — does the owner have a son or not ? I cannot tell from the picture at the top. Please clarify.

observer

April 11th, 2012
11:06 pm

I would not want my child subjected to the PERSONAL opinion of a teacher on any subject much less one surrounded by controversy in which all the facts are not collected. Teacher obviously not objective and would not stand down. Her personal opinions should not flow down to her students by virtue of them being a captive audience. I would have an issue with this as a parent and let it be known.

Fresh Spring @ 9:31 pm – your first paragraph is totally negated of consideration and respect based on your second paragraph.

DG

April 11th, 2012
11:15 pm

Teach your subject, no more, no less, what is so hard to figure out?

iggy

April 12th, 2012
8:50 am

Fresh Spring

April 11th, 2012
9:31 pm

You’re premise is ridulous and stupid. You just made the list.

iggy

April 12th, 2012
8:50 am

You too, Niki.

Fresh Spring

April 12th, 2012
11:57 am

Observer, you are negated. Whatever that means. Just asking questions.

Iggy …….. YOU made the list too for your statement. Enjoy !

HB

April 12th, 2012
12:31 pm

“Not one cry of outrage for two white Brittish tourists gunned down by two black men…….where’s Obama’s apology for that? Where’s the outrage????”

Did police drop the investigation after taking the shooters’ word for it that they felt threatened by the unarmed tourists? Or were they arrested and charged and put on trial?

Fresh Spring

April 12th, 2012
2:02 pm

The NRA and the Republic Party didn’t care about non US folks when they rammed through Florida’s Stand Down And Be Shot Dead law. FYI …… there are more guns in the US than people now. Think about that folks …….. ~ 311.5 MILLION +

Denise

April 12th, 2012
2:27 pm

Niki, I am black and I still think she was wrong. Think about this: what if she was raising money to contribute to Zimmerman’s defense fund? I know folks would be calling for her head on a platter. Just because someone is doing something you agree with doesn’t make her actions right. I say keep these situations out of the classrooms to avoid the controversy of someone involving others’ children in political activities the parents disagree with.

Retta Leicher

April 12th, 2012
5:46 pm

There are some fascinating time limits on this article however I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There is some validity but I will take maintain opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we would like more! Added to FeedBurner as well

Kadijah

April 16th, 2012
8:18 am

I heard that they had Trayvon cash collection bins at all Clayton county schools this week.

Greg S.

April 16th, 2012
4:41 pm

The teacher should have refrained from actually helping with the fundraiser. She should have used it as a teaching tool to show how the media steers viewer/readers toward a decision to keep them reading/viewing rather than reporting the true facts. Fired…no. But she should have received an official reprimand.