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Volume 20, Number 5
September/October 2004

The “N-word” and the Racial Dynamics of Teaching


It is the first day back at school and students greet each other after the long summer break. Racial, gender, and sexual slurs-all spoken without apparent malice-punctuate students' dialogue as they hail each other. One teacher bristles every time she hears the n-word. A guidance counselor calls out, "Hey, watch your mouth." Two teachers exchange glances, and one says to the other, "You have to pick your battles." A new high school year has begun.

How do high school teachers contend with students' use of offensive racial and sexual language? What wells of emotions are tapped as teachers wrestle with their decisions about what "battles to pick" in their everyday interactions with youth?

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    Lisa Delpit. Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New York: New Press, 1995.

     Linda Darling-Hammond. “Instructional Policy into Practice: The Power of the Bottom over the Top.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 12, no. 3 (Fall 1990): 339-348.