Tennessee Licensed Teacher Matthew Hawn Fights For Job: Critical Race Theory

Matthew Hawn, the Sullivan County teacher fired from classes on the role of race in American society, told Knox News he intends to move forward with any means available to overturn his dismissal in June, a decision upheld last week by the school board on a 5-1 vote.

Hawn said he would appeal to Sullivan County Chancellery Court, a process that can take six to 12 months before a judge hears the case.

In the meantime, as he fights to regain his place in the Sullivan Central High School classroom and retain his teaching license, he has pledged to support any other teachers canceled by lawmakers who have entered the room. class to prevent discussions on topics they don’t like.

“I still expect to get back to school in Sullivan County, but not as fast as I thought I would,” he said.

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Hawn is supported by dozens of his former students, constitutional experts and nationally renowned writers whose work he has referred to in lessons on topics such as implicit bias and white privilege.

School administrators said classes were inappropriate and fired him just after the Tennessee legislature passed a law banning the teaching of “critical race theory,” a complex academic system of analysis. legal which is only introduced in high-level university courses, most often graduates. law schools or programs.

Former teacher Matthew Hawn's class at Sullivan County Central High School.

Lessons like Hawn’s, which focus on culturally relevant teaching, have been sucked into a political movement started by conservative lawmakers who attempt to define any lesson that touches on race or ethnicity as a critical theory of race.

Hawn rejects the labeling and told Knox News he is simply making students think deeply about American values, history and society.

“My teachers always challenged me and I really felt they cared about me. I wanted to do the same for my students,” he said.

Hawn, 43, grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, and has lived there his entire life. It Knox News that he has only had two African American students in his classes during his entire teaching career. He thinks his students needed lessons in exploring the race in America more than anyone else.

“Sure I could go and go somewhere else, but I wanted to teach where it was needed most,” Hawn said.

Before the shot, and what happened next

He had been teaching his contemporary studies class, made up of juniors and seniors, all white, for over a decade. Discussions about the breed were part of the program for years without any problems.

That changed when the legislature began to fit into classrooms following national conversations about race following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin in 2020.

Hawn began to discuss the role of race more openly with his contemporary studies students as issues dominated the news, particularly the police shooting against Jacob Blake, a black man, in Kenosha, Wis., And the murder of two demonstrators and the injury of another. by Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white teenager who armed himself and traveled from Illinois to protests in Kenosha.

Hawn used the two incidents to discuss “white privilege,” which he says is a fact.

Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, he continued to engage his students in matters of race. But it was two specific incidents that sealed his fate.

After the Jan. 6 uprising on the United States Capitol, Hawn asked his students to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay, “The First White President,” which links Donald Trump’s rise to an effort to some white Americans to deny the legacy of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States.

Some parents complained and Hawn was reprimanded for the Jan.13 incident.

“During an hour-long meeting with the principal, I was told to stop teaching the lesson, stating that I was only given one point of view,” Hawn said. . “Which was true then because I never had the chance to go any further in the course. I was told to stop teaching it right away, so I got it. do.

“I was delighted to teach the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates with my students, but never had the opportunity.”

Fast forward to April and Hawn said he’s watching Derek Chauvin’s trial with his students, just like millions of Americans.

“We talked about things like implicit bias. And I was asking about the trial, you know, is it possible for him to have a fair trial? You know, what do you think of the defense argument here? What do you think of the prosecution’s argument here, just stuff like that? “Said Hawn.” But one of my students brought up white privilege, and I said, well, what is it? what is it? I thought it would be a good topic, so we started discussing it. “

On April 26, alongside the chat, he had them watch and analyze a YouTube video of “White Privilege,” a provocative spoken word by Kyla Jenée Lacey. The video opens with a graphic listing the names of hundreds of black men and women who have been killed by police and continues for nearly four minutes. It includes occasional uses of profanity.

In the poem, she asks, “What is white privilege? It is the acceptance of the bombs on Baghdad but not on Boston, it is European history taught as a main subject and African as an option. like i’m not black every f ***** seconds.

“These are the only five decades of legal recognition that should correct 400 years of white transgression, that’s crack for cocaine, with blacks getting almost 20% longer sentences for the exact same offenses or as, per. example, a black man without a criminal record is less likely to get a job than a white criminal. Maybe it’s because we’re lazy and not working hard enough, like what the fuck?

Hawn told Knox News he cut the profanity as best he could. “A few words got through, but every student testified in the August hearings that I tried to silence the blasphemy.”

On April 28, Hawn said he was brought to the office for another meeting with the school principal.

“I was told that I continue to deny my students access to various points of view. Well, I gave a white scholar, an African American poet and historian, and an article on black privilege, ”Hawn said. “Because in my rebuke, they told me to bring up different points of view, so I stuck to that. I was not given the impression that I was going to be fired. “

But Hawn said it wasn’t just the mention of different points of view. It was the precise and continual evocation of “opposing” points of view that confused him.

“They also used the word ‘opposing views’ when asked if I offered them to my students. Well, what is the opposite of white privilege? I do not know what it is. I still don’t know to this day, ”Hawn said. “But I still asked my students, ‘Is Black History Month or the NAACP an example of black privilege?

He said his students denied the idea of ​​black privilege, but still led discussions and lessons that included the different perspectives requested by principals. “I did what they asked me to do,” he said.

But it didn’t matter. He was fired on May 5 for insubordination and unprofessional behavior.

“I was handed my walking papers without any explanation. I didn’t even know what to say. I think my first question was what am I going to do about health insurance? Because I’m a type 1 diabetic.” , did he declare.

On the same day Hawn was fired, the Tennessee legislature approved a ban on teaching critical race theory in state schools. After days of heated debate, the Senate voted 25-7 for the ban a day after the House easily passed it along partisan lines.

Hawn doesn’t think it’s a matter of coincidence.

“They were tracking that bill,” Hawn said. “There’s no way they didn’t know the bill was before the House and the Senate.”

The shooting gained national attention.

Lacey, the author of the poem, told Knox News her first reaction was anger. “It’s like my work isn’t believable material and of course I was worried that someone would lose their livelihood because of something I said.”

After learning of Hawn’s dismissal, she contacted him and traveled from Florida to speak on his behalf at a hearing in August over his dismissal.

“I felt like I had to come here, how could I not? And as a black artist, I don’t understand why my work is deemed less credible or important than anyone else under consideration,” Lacy said.

“Blasphemy has been used in literature historically. Why is my work different?” she added.

Student Supported Hawn Testimonial

More than a dozen students who took Hawn’s course were called to testify in August, telling officials they not only liked the course, but disagreed with Hawn’s dismissal .

Faith Allen Jones, a student in Hawn’s class during the 2021 semester, testified that students’ opinions were always valued in class and that her dismissal was unfair.

“He really taught us to use our voice and it probably gave me the confidence to come here today and speak and just know that I have a voice and that what I’m saying is valid and important. could take its course again, I would, ”Allen Jones said.

A notice board behind Matthew Hawn's desk at Sullivan Central High School displays the memorabilia his students have given him over the years.

Former student Nicholas McCracken told officials, according to records, that different views in the classroom were always given.

“Coach Hawn would always want to give an opposing side regardless of which side is presented,” he said.

The records show that students, including McCracken, were asked where they stood on the political spectrum.

“I would say I probably tend to be more conservative, especially during this class. Today I would say I’m more moderate,” he said.

Hawn told Know News he believes that requiring a student’s political affiliation in the proceedings was a violation of privacy and only confirmed the administration’s insistence on making it a partisan issue.

“In my 16 years of teaching, I would never ask a student this. It was the most disappointing part of this whole process,” he said.

Regardless of the outcome, Hawn’s teaching license is now inactive and could be suspended from six months to a year by the state council, preventing him from teaching elsewhere. The Tennessee Education Association will need to act in their defense to prevent this from happening.

Hawn is now placing his hopes on the courts. Many have asked him why keep trying to teach where you are not wanted?

“This is where I am needed,” he said.

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