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]