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As part of President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, African American men many of them former slaves were finally granted permission to join the military during the Civil War. The experiences they endured unfair pay, humiliating menial labor, brutalizing racism and the threat of enslavement if captured are an important part of the history of the Civil War.
The movie "Glory" is an imperfect portrayal of these events (as any Hollywood production must necessarily be), though it does an excellent job of celebrating the black soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first black regiment organized in Massachusetts following the Emancipation Proclamation. The film has a long history of use in educational settings, the earliest edited version funded by Pepsi-Cola and sent to thousands of schools and other organizations to commemorate Black History Month in 1991.
Ogden teacher Douglas Barker is being punished for providing his students with an invaluable educational experience ("Official: Teacher's use of racial slur violated policy," May 5).
I wasn't in Barker's classroom on the day he introduced "Glory" to his students. I cannot comment on his particular use of the N-word, nor how he tried to contextualize it for his students. But I've had similar conversations with my own eighth graders as we've grappled with historical sources that use the word.
While I would never, ever want to make students feel unsafe, sometimes I absolutely need to make them feel uncomfortable intellectually so they can begin to formulate socially responsible opinions, in the safe environment of our classroom. But this is not my task alone: I can only supplement what students learn from their parents and from society at large.
Eighth graders are at an important age, and are confronting many of these issues for the first time. They need educators with legitimate experience, who possess knowledge and training in the historical context of our racial past and are conversant in explaining the discomfiting truths about our complicated history. Great teachers should not be made sacrificial lambs on the altar of political correctness, and we ignore or gloss over past racism at the peril of our goal to eradicate it in the present.
If you want to have some candid conversations about the experiences of black soldiers during the Civil War, come visit my classroom this week. We will be watching an edited version of "Glory," which I informed my students' parents last August we would be doing. I am teaching tomorrow's leaders, and this is an educational experience they cannot afford to miss.
Nathaniel R. Ricks is an eighth grade U.S. history teacher in Canyons School District.