Mary Grabar

One of the unwritten codes for white teachers teaching in public schools has been that when it comes time to discipline a black student, the task should be left to another black teacher or administrator. This is to avoid the possibility that the student might mistake the discipline for just another display of the Eurocentric - White - Power - That - Rules - the - World - and - Keeps - All - People - of - Color - Enslaved - Hegemony.

Sometimes, however, a white teacher needs to make requests in the classroom, like telling a poor, disadvantaged student to turn off the blaring music on his iPod. There are classes and workshops for teachers on how to do this “sensitively.”

While being interviewed on National Public Radio by Terry Gross in June 2007, Frank Burd, a Philadelphia math teacher, spoke about the issues that “kids” come into the high school classroom with, like having young, single parents. He philosophized that a large part of teaching involves “opening yourself up” and “developing trust.” One can say, “Put the iPod away,” in many different ways. For the benefit of listeners, he demonstrated it as a command, and then in a nice, sensitive way. Ms. Gross, a former teacher herself, agreed that it is important that students know teachers are not “disrespecting” them.

But, some months earlier, when Burd asked a student to turn off his loud iPod, the 60-year-old teacher suffered a broken neck, brain damage, and a shoulder injury, his lesson for not making the request sensitively enough, apparently.

Teachers are also encouraged to display cultural sensitivity in their curriculums. Burd’s colleague, Ed Klein, a music teacher, did this when he refrained from imposing a Eurocentric classical music curriculum on his students and undertook a course of study on the high art form of rap music and incorporated it into his curriculum.

But to Klein’s bemusement, this was not appreciated enough to ward off an attack. For calling in a parent one too many times, the 55-year-old Klein suffered a broken jaw. But that was after the perpetrator had come in two days in a row and sprayed him with a fire extinguisher, then told him on the third day that he would be killed, and on the fourth day, “ain’t nothing you can do about this, cracker.” It was on the fifth day that Klein was beaten.

Ed Klein’s perpetrator was exonerated when two witnesses failed to show up in court.

Terry Gross asked Klein and Burd, both white, about students “testing” teachers, and whether race was a “subtext.” Well, no, said Klein, “aside from the fact that I was referred to as ‘cracker’ numerous times.”

Mary Grabar

Mary Grabar earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia and teaches in Atlanta. She is organizing the Resistance to the Re-Education of America at Her writing can be found at