Excerpt: The firing of Matthew Hawn, a high school teacher in Sullivan County, Tennessee, recently made national news and seemed to confirm fears that newly-enacted state bans on critical race theory (CRT) would have a chilling effect on teacher speech. Hawn, a 16-year veteran teacher and baseball coach, had assigned students in his contemporary issues class Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essay in the Atlantic, “The First White President,” and a spoken word poem from Kyla Jenée Lacey called “White Privilege.” One headline declared that Hawn was fired for assigning these readings.
But Hawn wasn’t fired for violating the state’s newly passed CRT ban. Really, he was dismissed for failing to adhere to the Tennessee “Teacher Code of Ethics,” a seldom-invoked but sensible state requirement for teachers to provide students access to varying points of view. Such an approach could offer a richer education for students by leaning into controversial issues in the classroom, not avoiding or banning them.