Racism — April 11, 2012 at 7:12 am

Michigan teacher fired for raising funds for family of Trayvon Martin


The wrong person got fired

At a time in this country and my state when we’re dealing with crap like this hacked road construction sign, now we get a story about a teacher who was fired for using the Trayvon Martin case as a teachable moment. Brooke Harris was fired for supporting a student-run fundraiser for the family of Trayvon Martin.

Last month Brooke Harris’ eighth-grade class asked her about the “kid who was killed over some skittles;” she seized the opportunity to bring her students’ lived experiences into the classroom—a strategy we and other experts advocate.

Brooke’s students identify with Trayvon Martin. Many of them are African American. Many have been stopped by police who thought they looked suspicious.

In fact, her students engaged so deeply with the issue that they asked to take it beyond essays and class discussions—they wanted to take action to help Trayvon’s family.

They, like many students across the nation, wanted to show their support by wearing hoodies. Each student who participated would pay $1. Proceeds would be donated to Trayvon’s family.

Again, Brooke saw a teachable moment. She and her students began the formal process of organizing a school event. Students wrote persuasive letters to the principal and superintendent. Brooke and a co-worker filed the necessary paperwork. The principal immediately signed off on the fundraiser.

Superintendent [Jacqueline] Cassell was less enthusiastic. She refused to approve the proposal, despite having supported many other “dress down” fundraisers. Brooke’s students took the disappointment in stride, but asked to present their idea to Cassell in person.

And that’s when things got weird.

Brooke asked that a few of her students be allowed to attend her meeting with Cassell. Outraged by the request, Cassell suspended Brooke for two days. The explanation given—she was being paid to teach, not to be an activist.

After several go-arounds with the superintendent, Harris was eventually fired. It should be mentioned that this is a teacher who won Teacher of the Year two out of the last three years. It’s worth reading the entire article at Teaching Tolerance. It’ll blow your mind.

We talk an awful lot about how “blue” Michigan is and how, in general, it’s a reliably Democratic state. But events like these and the corruption of our state government by a Republican majority have me questioning that. It’s time for the Democrats to rise again in Michigan, seize the reins of power and start taking us into a future where racism isn’t acceptable and small-minded superintendents like Jacqueline Cassell are the ones getting fired, not smart, inspirational teachers like Brooke Harris.

Adding…As wmrharris points out in the comments, Harris works for a charter school and, therefor, is not represented by a union and has no rights to address her termination. She’s fired and that’s it. That is your anti-union, pro-charter school agenda in action.

Further adding…you can sign the Change.org petition in support of Brooke Harris HERE and I encourage you to do so.

[HATE/FEAR image credit: LTDesignStudios – available as t-shirts and hoodies :: Road sign image credit: @mizkorona on Twitter, used with permission]

  • wmrharris

    Remember, we’re in Charter Land where she had no union representation, and where the tax-paying public has even less voice to affect the schools that educate their children. 

    • Thank you for pointing this out. I have updated and mentioned your comment.

  • CB_Demented

    Yeah, well…there’s more than one side to this story…and you’re only hearing one side of it from the person who got fired. People freshly fired tend to be terrible witnesses to the truth, which is probably somewhere in the middle between what the Superintendent would say, and what this teacher said.

    Having been part of an investigation into a teacher in this district doing the same thing, over a different incident, I can say that the decision to fire a teacher, even in a non-union charter school, is never taken lightly. And very rarely did the teacher just “ask what she did wrong.” There is almost always more to the story.

    The teachable moment is in discussing the incident. When you start taking up collections for one person or another, you’re in danger crossing a very indistinct line into activism, which is great for the kids, but not so great for the teacher. It’s pretty rare that a district will sign off on something like this unless the subject is completely benign and along the lines of sending relief funds for some natural disaster. This particular cause is VERY controversial and is one that can very easily lead to a great deal of unrest at the school or within the district, considering the number of racial charges leveled in the case. It’s quite probable that this was explained to the teacher initially, but that didn’t make it into the narrative of why she was let go.

    What’s more, the prosecutor is about to make an announcement within the next couple of days that is likely to make a great many people very unhappy, and further incite passions about the case.

  • cryingliberty

    This line is especially prescient:

    “We talk an awful lot about how “blue” Michigan is and how, in general, it’s a reliably Democratic state.”

    Michigan only trends blue at the federal level, and that’s largely because of major urban centers such as Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo.

    If one was to look at the party affiliation of the state by county (or more accurately, by municipality), Michigan would be blood-red with pockets of blue scattered throughout, giving a very different impression of our real political leanings.

    Michigan is only reliably Democratic when it comes to the national picture. When you get down to the local level, we’re as Republican as some southern states. This is what’s disgusting about Michigan’s political climate: we’ve been thought of as a haven for Democrats and liberalism for so long (largely due to the very strong union presence here) that we can’t believe we’re otherwise – even when the evidence screams that we’ve become the exact inverse.

    There are those that do recognize what Michigan is slowly becoming, and are working to stop it (Eclectadude here is one of them), but my fear is that not enough people are going to realize just how dire the situation has become before it’s too late.

    • Rockdiga

      Michigan who had a huge influx of people from the south many years ago. Have what we call a Democratic Republican state…so is Ohio..which is a 100 PERCENT blue collar Democratic state..but its Republican. Basically what i call the edges of the bible belt. People who believe blacks gays and mexicans are destroying the planet but Still like Unions and pay Union dues..and they make enough money to be effected by democratic policy nationally against republicans.

    • CB_Demented

      Actually, I think your brand of local Republicans are just wrong on so many levels. We’ve got our died in the wool, generationalist Republicans down here in the south, but man…the amount of corrupt bullshit they’re trying to get away with in Michigan is just over the top. It’s almost like you guys are a mirror image of Illinois politics, but with corrupt Republicans rather than corrupt Democrats.

      And you’re right… I have to admit, even being from your neighboring state, Ohio, and having a good many relatives living in Michigan, I never would have even thought there were any appreciable number of Republicans living in your state.

      • Hobbes83

        You must have never lived outside of Ann Arbor or Detriot, because the rest of Michigan has very conservative areas, especially in the UP and the western Michigan area.

        • CB_Demented

           I’ve never lived in Michigan at all, and only ever been there for business, to pass through to get to another state, or to visit the family in the Detroit area that live there.

          It’s just a perception born of bad assumption.

          • Hobbes83

            Well, if you don’t know about the political landscape of the state, why are you making such broad generalizations?

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