Teacher's lesson about racism offends his bosses

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A respected American history teacher, sent to an administrative gulag for teaching American history, has returned to school.

Alan Barron, a teacher at a Monroe, Mich., middle school and a 36-year veteran about to retire, was put on administrative leave for teaching a controversial subject.

"The best thing you can say about what happened to me is that it turned out to be a teaching moment for the kids," Barron told me over the phone. "I was worried about how the kids would respond. And I was a bit worried (about) myself."

Who wouldn't have been? His teaching methods apparently violated the sensibilities of the education bureaucracy. But what was his "offense," exactly?

In a lesson on segregation and racism, Barron showed a video that focused on the ugly old practice of white entertainers putting on blackface as part of their theatrical acts.

Barron described to me what happened: A school administrator observing his class apparently took offense. He was called to the main office and within minutes, he was whisked out of school.

"You can't call it a suspension," Barron said of his more than two-week stay in the gulag. "They call it indefinite administrative leave. I always tell my students, 'Be afraid of falling out of a third-floor window, but never be afraid about standing up for what you believe.'

"And then I was confronted with this and yes, I was worried. So I learned something too."

Barron missed the big school banquet, where he would have been honored as an exemplary teacher at the end of his career. But a good thing happened.

After parents became incensed and the story went national, the school reinstated him so he could finish his last few days.

I asked him about his time in education limbo: Were you taken to Room 101 for re-education therapy?

"That's Orwell," he said. "I was teaching history."

There was a pause, and we savored it for a moment.

"Teaching history means sometimes you teach things that happened that were offensive. Racism is offensive, and the use of blackface was offensive," he said. "The Crucifixion was offensive, wars are offensive, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was offensive. But it happened. You don't skip history because it might offend. It happened. It's history. That's what I do. I teach history."

Barron's students told their parents about his abrupt departure. The parents soon began raising hell. One Monroe mom, Adrienne Aaron, was particularly upset. She helped organize parents.

"We just love Mr. Barron," Aaron told me. "My daughter is black. My husband is black. My father was from Iraq. My mother is Hispanic. I guess you'd say we're a multicultural family. We weren't offended.

"My daughter was worried about the school hurting Mr. Barron because he tried to teach history. She wanted to know about segregation, about Jim Crow. There were some whispers that the school was worried about offending people."

Here's what's truly offensive: ignoring history because it might offend.

It happens all the time in American public schools, which are by definition subject to politics. Subject matter is run through a politically correct filter, past politicians, legislatures, school board members and local poobahs.

"My daughter wanted to learn, and so did the other students," Aaron said. "And to force him out of school, to make him miss the banquet, to put him and the kids under that kind of stress for teaching history that actually happened is terrible."

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