Tennessee Teacher Matthew Hawn Fired for ‘Forcing’ White Privilege Views

In Summary

Matthew Hawn, a social studies teacher from Tennessee, was fired after parents and administrators accused him of forcing “one-sided” views of white privilege on students. 

There’s no doubt white privilege exists and typically keeps white Americans from being judged or punished as harshly as their Black counterparts, as long as they don’t teach students about it. 

Former Tennessee teacher Matthew Hawn spent 16 years in the Sullivan County school system teaching contemporary issues, but his remark that white privilege is “a fact” during a discussion about police shootings set off a chain of events that ultimately led to his dismissal, per The Washington Post

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During a lesson in August 2020, Hawn compared the incidents of Jacob Blake and Kyle Rittenhouse, reportedly asking students “how is that not a definition of White privilege?” 

Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times and left partially paralyzed by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse is a white teenager from Illinois who traveled to Kenosha amid social unrest and shot and killed two men and wounded a third, but was later cleared of all charges under the state’s self-defense legislation. 

Hawn apologized after a parent complained. 

After a Trump-supporting mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, killing five people and injuring more than 130 police officers, Hawn assigned Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay “The First White President” to students, which argues that white racism was a driving force for former President Donald Trump. 

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According to The Washington Post, parents and school administrators, including Brent Palmer, the district’s assistant director of schools for personnel and operations, and Ingrid Deloach, the assistant director of Sullivan County Schools, accused Hawn of limiting debate and pressuring students to accept his personal viewpoints. 

Hawn received a letter of reprimand from the school system shortly after for violating the Tennessee teacher code of ethics, which states an educator shall “not unreasonably deny the students access to varying points of view.” 

The final straw came in April, when Derek Chauvin was convicted of manslaughter and murder in the killing of George Floyd, and students wanted to discuss the verdict. 

In response to a student asking if it would’ve been an example of white privilege if Chauvin hadn’t been found guilty, Hawn pulled up Kyla Jenée Lacey’s poetry performance “White Privilege” on YouTube. 

Director of Schools David Cox said the video was “inappropriate” and Hawn had failed to learn anything from his previous reprimand, which resulted in his firing. The dismissal has been upheld by both the school board and an independent hearing officer.

RELATED: Tennessee County Exposed for History of Jailing Black Children 

In an interview with Education Week, Hawn promised to keep fighting for his reinstatement so he can continue educating the students he has formed special connections with over the years.

“This is my home. I think students in the Sullivan County school system deserve to have a teacher like me,” he said. “Why should teachers like me, anti-racist teachers, move to big cities? There’s work that needs to be done here too.”

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