I’m rubber, you’re glue

23 Feb

Teacher Shirley Bunn was handing out forms to her eighth grade class, when one of her students requested a Spanish version, repeating, “I’m Mexican. I’m Mexican” (http://blog.sfgate.com/hottopics/2012/02/17/texas-teacher-tells-brat-student-to-%e2%80%9cgo-back-to-mexico%e2%80%9d/?tsp=1).

The two-time Texan Teacher of the Year award recipient replied that he should “go back to Mexico.”

Bunn was subsequently placed on paid administrative leave. The investigation into her remark uncovered a previous occasion when Bunn, in a private conversation with a school counselor, referred to a group of disruptive boys as “Mexican Mafia.”

The official conclusion by an independent investigator is that there was “a lack of intent for ‘go back to Mexico’ to be a racially or nationality based pejorative remark.” Supporters of Bunn have concurred, with more than one on-line commentator expressing, “There was nothing racial or racist about her comment.”

I’m troubled by the need to deny anything “racial” (let alone racist) in her comments to and about the students. In the most basic sense, the comments are racial and national. Presumably, that’s why the student demanding the Spanish language form went there in the first place. If we can accept that, then perhaps we can talk about the underlying issue: our concern about an adult fighting with a child on his developmental terms.

In the comments following the SF Chronicle‘s article about this incident, a reader suggests, “Let’s act like adults…” Great idea. That would include recognizing that Bunn was talking to an adolescent boy. By her own admission, she was having “an extremely bad day,” which is totally understandable. So is saying or doing something under duress that we wouldn’t normally do. I’ve been there. Maybe you have, too. But when all is said and done, it’s up to us adults to try to be there as adults for the children with whose care we are charged, and when we make a mistake, I think the adult thing to do is try to learn from it. It would be worthwhile for Bunn to ask herself why she would refer to students as “Mexican Mafia” even in private and to investigate, beyond just being tired or exasperated by a particular student, what racial and national beliefs shaped her “go back to Mexico” response.

The Chronicle itself would do well to remember who’s supposed to be the adult and reconsider its headline “Texas teacher tells brat student to ‘Go back to Mexico.'” Brat student? They forgot to call him “Mexican Mafia,” too.

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