Hannah Nathanson: "A White Teacher Taught White Students About White Privilege. It Cost Him His Job."

Published by Hannah Nathanson for The Washington Post:

Matthew Hawn checked his phone to see if the wait was finally over.

It had been five months since he was fired for teaching about white privilege at a high school in rural Tennessee. Two months since he had fought to regain his job at an emotional three-day hearing, becoming a symbol of the acrimonious debate over the way race, racism and history should be taught in America’s schools.

Now - nothing. No announcements from the school district about his appeal effort. No messages from his lawyer. No texts from the friends and former colleagues who had sustained him through a lonely half-year of jobless limbo.

Could he return to teaching in his hometown? Apparently, no one knew, although an independent hearing officer was supposed to deliver a verdict by the end of the week.

It was now Friday, inching past 4:26 p.m. on an October afternoon.

Hawn, 43, white and balding, sighed. Marloh, his German shepherd, started to whine. Hawn grabbed the leash because no matter what, he still had to walk the dog.

Shrugging on a gray hoodie against the fall chill, he walked out his front door and down the long, sloped driveway of the house he had grown up in, Marloh tugging at every step.

A lifelong resident of Kingsport, Hawn was well aware his liberal views made him an outlier in his overwhelmingly white, mostly conservative community. But that had never mattered before. He had taught in the Sullivan County school system for 16 years without any trouble. And he had taught the class that got him fired, “Contemporary Issues,” for nearly a decade without a single parent complaint.

Then at the start of last school year, he made a pronouncement during a discussion about police shootings that would derail his career. White privilege, he told his nearly all-white class, is “a fact.”

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