Ask ARP: How should teachers handle books containing racial slurs?

Dear Anti-Racist Parent,

My neighbors and I all have boys in the 3rd grade. A few weeks ago, their teacher was reading a story that included the n-word which prompted the kids to ask “what’s that?”. The teacher gave a brief explanation something like “a derogatory word used to describe dark-brown people.”

This has prompted much discussion among the parents – all of which believe it was done inappropriately. However, there isn’t agreement on exactly how it should have been handled. One parent viewed it as a swear word and felt it shouldn’t have been said at all. Another parent was upset with the teacher’s definition (she is Indian but grew up being called the n-word).

I think it’s important that we teach our children the word but when they’re able to understand the historical context, they can grasp the power that the word holds, etc. but I struggle with what age is appropriate.

Anyway – I could go on and on with all the opinions/viewpoints. I’m curious as to your perspective. Should the teacher have said the word or should she have avoided it? Is 3rd grade (8/9 yr olds) an appropriate age to begin teaching this?

From Tammy in Lincoln, Nebraska

P.S. I believe this is different than a teacher responding to someone using the word. In that scenario, it is always appropriate for the teacher to intervene.

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