Fairbanks teacher waits for justice after being cancelled by school over 'Kill a Mockingbird' class discussion - Must Read Alaska
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Fairbanks teacher waits for justice after being cancelled by school over ‘Kill a Mockingbird’ class discussion

The lesson for teachers today is to be oh-so careful if you tread into a discussion of race and policing. You might get cancelled.

Connie Gardner has spent the last two weeks thinking back on her 32-year career as a teacher. Never once has she been called “racist.” But the Fairbanks special education teacher was put on leave on April 28 after a parent of one of her students recorded and posted online part of the class discussion and comments Gardner made relevant to the classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Gardner said she had rarely seen her special ed students so engaged as they were on April 28. The students are not usually talkative, and some have difficulty speaking, reading, and writing. Due to the short timeframe available this spring, her students didn’t actually get to read the classic book by Harper Lee, but instead watched the 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck.

The students discussing the theme of the book wandered into matters of today’s current events, with race, policing, and controversies very much on their minds as they thought about whether America is more or less racist than in the Jim Crow era depicted in “Mockingbird.”

What happened next during the discussion was a rude awakening for all high school teachers. The students were leading the discussion to areas they had heard about in the news — George Floyd, the man killed during an arrest by a Minneapolis police officer, who has since been convicted of murder. As high school teachers often do, when discussing literature and history, Gardner allowed the class discussion to go into areas the students were leading it.

As part of that discussion, Gardner spoke about behavior and how to stay out of trouble. She was making the point that schools have dress codes for a reason, and that Lathrop High School does not allow “sag pants” at school because they are associated with gangs, and that the world does judge people by how they present themselves, therefore, pull your pants up.

Her point was that although judging people by their appearance may be wrong, it’s also part of the world we live in.

Also, if the police arrest you, comply with their orders, she said. That’s what she would do, she said. If George Floyd had complied with police orders, he never would have been put in a knee-to-neck restraint. He would have lived, she said.

Sagging pants, a style worn by some youth and associated with gang culture. Source: Wikimedia.

In the abbreviated class calendar of 2021, “I didn’t have a whole semester to build trust with my students, and had to work extra hard to get them to trust me. I made a promise to them that I would answer their questions and not treat them like little kids. They could ask me anything, and I would answer them honestly,” Gardner told Must Read Alaska. “They trust me and know I will try as hard as I can,” in classes that are this year a combination of in-person and Zoom calls.

For Gardner, discussion of Jim Crow from the 1950s and America’s current social conditions is a relevant comparison for literature.

“This exact piece of literature is to make you think about the injustice and how far we have come and how far we have to go,” Gardner said.

“Now I’m being told it is not up for discussion,” she said.

About 30 minutes into the lesson is when a parent started videotaping the lesson. The parent said that because Gardner is white, she cannot express an opinion about race in America. At the end of the day, Gardner was put on leave by Principal Carly Sween, who agreed that Gardner had been racially insensitive.

Gardner in January had notified the district she would be retiring after the end of this school year. She believes that rather than justice at the close of her three-decade career, the principal is just going to run out the clock on her, thus denying Gardner the ability to restore her reputation, which she says has been damaged by the worldwide coverage that occurred when the parent posted the video to YouTube.

Gardner has since seen stories about her classroom lesson from as far away as India and Great Britain.

The high school English teacher says there’s a lesson for teachers: Be very afraid.

If you’re teaching literature, you won’t want to stray off the exact text, and even then, do so with care. If you’re teaching by Zoom, a parent might record you and turn you into the principal. And you don’t dare make comparisons to today’s social conditions. In fact, you might not even want to teach “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but move to another “suggested” work of American literature.

In other words, the class dialogue of years past, where students and teachers debate and discuss, are now hazardous to a high school teacher’s career.

The last day of school is May 20, but there doesn’t appear to be justice in the works for Gardner, nor help from the ACLU. No organization has stepped up to defend her First Amendment rights or academic freedom.

The video of a portion of the class discussion has been viewed over 55,000 times on YouTube, and Gardner says that if she ever wants to go back into teaching or even substitute teach, she has been irreparably harmed by what has happened to her.

She’s hoping she’ll be restored to her classroom in the next few days, because she does want to have her name cleared, but meanwhile, she is interviewing with Greg Kelly on NewsMax on Tuesday, May 11, about how Critical Race Theory and Cancel Culture ended her teaching career in Fairbanks.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Liberals love to shut down any discussion they see as unacceptable or unhelpful to their narrative with the race card. “You are not allowed to have an opinion because you are not ( insert ridiculous made up intersectional nonsense here).

  • It’s the cowardly principal that needs canceling.

  • They should just jump a couple of steps and start burning the books now.

  • Pure ignorance from the left.
    To Kill a Mockingbird opened the eyes of a generation. To persecute a teacher over a relevant discussion is the epitome of liberal hypocrisy and stupidity!

  • We have become that which we fought. Welkome to Amerika Komrade.

    #VoteBronson

  • The union has a legal duty to represent her at least through the administrative steps of the contractual grievance process and had best have a good reason if it doesn’t pursue remedy through arbitration. She also has resort to the administrative review for actions toward tenured teachers in Title 14, and ultimately she can have an adverse arbitration decision or an adverse administrative decision to the Superior Court. She’d have to have her own counsel to pursue administrative remedy or to take an arbitration decision or administrative determination to court.

    There you run into a major problem with taking a public employment matter to court; on your own it is very hard to find a lawyer who’ll do it at all and even harder to find one who’ll do it on contingency. Big public employers have batallions of lawyers and they just grind individual plaintiffs to dust with motions and depostions and anything they can think of that will cost the plaintiff time and money. Even if you have an attorney who’ll work on contingency, s/he’s not going to front much if any money for that stuff.

  • It’s a sad world we live in when teachers who shut up and color are rewarded with continued employment and those that incite critical thinking and rational discussion are dismissed. AK is dead last in the nation for reading yet when these kids show some interest in literature, albeit in movie form, we shut down the very person whose job it is to help students engage?

  • What others do to humiliate one another is sensationalized for a little time then quickly forgotten. It’s highly unlikely any career can be over because of ones mistake and the malicious actions of others. There are numerous other workplaces within the teaching field someone can do. After retirement, she can even make a private tutoring service business setting her own hours and how many students she’d teach. A high school teacher can even go full circle in the opposite direction deciding to teach part time or full time in a preschool. Little children are a breath of fresh air after teaching older grade levels. Their little problems are usually just little problems unless its a little child whose experienced adult issues too early in their life.

    The teacher was respectfully doing her job as she was trained before all this woke mania. How would she know the students will get in trouble for bringing up George Floyd. Are they saying George Floyd shouldn’t be discussed?

  • So…. George Floyd the convicted felon is a hero while Harper Lee is a demon for pointing out the inequity of racist policies? The world is upside down. If there is racism it applies equally to all, or do we take the Nazi Aryan philosophy that all lesser (out of favor) races must be destroyed? Have we degenerated to Lord Of The Flies (probably also banned)? Purple Sunset, Schindler’s List, To Kill A Mockingbird, Gone With The Wind, The Birth Of A Nation (1915), Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and many more teach the evils of judging people based on superficial attributes, their ancestry or national origin. And my favorite: Blazing Saddles, ‘You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.’ My daughter, about 12 at the time, said that movie really made white people look stupid. I agreed-I said that’s the way racists are. By not teaching, and discussing, that many people will judge you based upon your appearance and mannerisms, we do children a terrible disservice. I remember driving through Seattle and a man peed in the street. As he turned around my son was horrified at his race, stating ‘OMG, I thought only white people did that in public. I’m so ashamed of my people.’ Great teachable moment.
    I once participated in a study in the 70s where we were shown pictures of people in various dress and poses: business suits, gangsta, hardhat, bum, cowboy hat, casual and many more. In the discussion after it was revealed that the same people just changed clothes (pretty easy to figure out). Overwhelmingly, black, brown or white, male or female (women were judged more favorably), the business suit was favorable, the gangsta tattooed unfavorable, and those in between a mix with little relation to the skin color beneath the clothes. Presentation matters. Attitude matters.

  • The only topics or discussion that should ever be forbidden, anywhere, are those that are illegal under the constitution or laws that society has established to protect our natural rights.
    Is a comment “racially insensitive?” Too bad. Listen to some rap music to desensitize yourself and stop being such a baby.

  • We are now living in the world of “1984” and have destroyed the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Do we monitor our thoughts next and destroy people for what they think and not what they do? It began with hate speech and then politically correct speech and actions and now Critical Race Theory and Woke equity not equality. Where and when does it stop or be recognized as wrong?

  • I think Connie Gardner should be promoted and given the teacher of the month award for a job well done with motivation of her students….

  • Alaskans need to take control of the liberal-infested school system. Everyone watch Blazing Saddles and chill out. To many snowflakes and people looking to make a mountain out of nothing.

  • The people of Fairbanks better step up to the plate and demand action or it will just get worse. They better organize a mass protest. Peaceful but adamant. Now before it’s too late. This is just the beginning if left unchecked.

  • I smell plain, old bad teacher. What teacher in their right mind tells their students she carries a gun? Does she WANT them to find out what car she drives and break into it?

    Hmmm…how about “preaching” to a captive impressionable audience of special ed students. This smacks of abuse of power. I know my late father — a highly respected principal in the Anchorage Scool District — would have loved this Zoom teaching era. Simply let them be themselves. Someone records it, uploads it to YouTube and poof — be gone! It would have saved him hundreds of hours of documentation to get a “so-called” teacher like this out of the classroom decades sooner.

    Also, note that we never heard what the ACTUAL subject matter of the class in question was for which the tutors were also online. A GOOD teacher would have kept track of how much discussion diverged from the lesson plan, then got right back on task.

  • Frankly George Floyd doesn’t anything to do with Harper’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Its a little off topic of a discussion for the special ed. students to be discussing. I am sure they can’t read to kill a mocking bird and this is reason for them watching a movie, Which movies based on books is made for entertainment reason only. Watching all the movies based on books does nothing for increasing literacy development. I am guessing the students couldn’t even write a well written one paragraph analyzing the book like most of us fmr. Alaskans and American students couldn’t do when we were in H.S. and still up to this day. I know I couldn’t and still couldn’t. This would be the teacher’s only mistake substituting a movie to be watched instead of the small class reading the book together. If they couldn’t read the book, then it is the teacher’s job to read aloud the book to them or help the students read it while the teacher is reading along with them followed by analyzing, paraphrasing, editing a small writing project. Since this is a special ed class, it’ll most likely be a sentence to a paragraph or a picture about the book depending on their limitations, if Alaska schools were great. this being Alaskan public school no surprise they’d allow special ed students dumb themselves down even more watching a movie instead of learning to read the book.
    Although a good teacher starts where the child can read. If the special ed. students couldn’t read to kill a mockingbird, then very possible they should been reading together 3rd-4th grade level chapter story books. Perhaps that may had been too challenging for them, and they should be required to start reading 1st-2nd grade level picture stories. The Goal should be just get the child no how big they are excited about reading early starting with what reading material they do understand, so when they do leave H.S. they won’t ignore books, magazines, newspapers, job applications, blogs, manual directions, and books.

  • Classic American writers John Steinbeck and Mark Twain used ‘N’ word in their writing. It was acceptable and normal in the context of their time. Nevertheless, today many school districts either discourage school teachers to use these authors in the classroom or completely banned these authors from the school curriculum. Shame.

  • Sophie, that is the difference between teaching kids to be good little mindless drones who worship ‘the man’ vs. critical thinking human beings who question everything and take us to new horizons.

  • How about we just cancel these Marxist Indoctrination Centers we call Public Schools?

  • Waits for justice? She got her justice. She supported the radical, corrupt teachers unions for years and now they are eating her alive. These people always think it won’t happen to them, until it does.

    If you will support a deeply corrupt organization like the NEA as long as they offer you nice benefits, you are going to have to live with the consequences of that decision.

  • “The parent said that because Gardner is white, she cannot express an opinion about race in America.”
    .
    That parent is proudly displaying their weapons grade stupidity with that asinine statement.
    In a just world the school district would have said so, instead of catering to the lowest common denominator and canceling the teacher…..

  • Yes Sophie. Only read and repeat from the district approved pamphlets. No discussion permitted. Only read and repeat to ensure a desirable socialist product.

  • A very small minority in America is manipulating all the cowards, to help fulfill their agenda of coming into total power.
    When the German armies invaded the Ukraine, they were received as liberators. No matter that the Nazis turned out worse. Point is that the people of the Ukraine were hoping, praying, wanting someone, anyone to liberate them from their communist overlords, which came into power through manipulating the people’s fears.
    Was this teacher getting suspended an act of fear by the principal? Or was it a deliberate act to contribute to fulfilling the Woke agenda?
    Problem with all cowards it that for them to not feel cowardly, they have to project their fear onto everyone else … believing that they’re helping “save” everyone from some imagined, undefined, great harm.
    ‘None fearful (no cowards) shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” Reason is that it takes courage to believe, to act on that belief, and to live like a believer. So we can be assured that none of this “Woke” nonsense will be in the kingdom of heaven.

  • Omg, pyscho sophie is back

  • WOW only black people can talk about racism……..anti racism has become racist. BLM has now replaced the KKK as the most racist organization in America. Thats right I said it.

  • Gardner is a hero for standing up to the Communists in the school district and a few commie parents who don’t have any critical reasoning skills. She should be hired by the Chicago school districts to come lecture kids in grade school and junior high about police compliance. Mothers in Chicago who lose their kids to gang shootings never took the time to teach their kids to obey the cops and not carry firearms. Jungle mentality usually produces an early death for young hoodlums.

  • It is my view that the teacher said nothing wrong everything she said is true and common sense. If anyone should be put on leave or fired it is the principal for not standing up for this great teacher and standing against this woke troublemaker who is probably a racist for thinking that only someone of color can comment on race.

  • Hey Sophie, you smell bad teacher I smell something else as soon as you opened your mouth. I praise this teacher and say that we need more like her. And if your father had any brains at all I would guess he would be furious at the behavior of the left and it’s followers.

  • I smell plain old good, old fashioned, honest school teacher who doesn’t teach down to her students, and who calls it like she sees it. She was effectively fired because she is not “woke” and actually was teaching traditional values, not what the leftist administration and union endorse. It is a hostile environment for anyone who holds traditional American values.
    This is now my 38th year teaching and I am aghast at how utterly depraved public education has become. I am so glad I made the transition to private education some years ago. Pay is low, the rewards are great… and none of this crap to deal with.

  • Woke bull crap
    We got the padding at school back then, or your parents.
    Wait we don’t want to break there sprit.
    I want To go to my cry/safe room.
    Stop this Woke bull crap 💩

  • That complaining parent should give their child a year or two off school in reparation. Give that mom a chance to do a little home schooling. No doubt that’d work out great.

  • Saddest part of this story is the students are unable to read the book so have to watch the movie to discuss the book. We have made our bed by turning our young over to a Marxist education system. If that teacher is a union member she is part of the problem. Sad, sad, sad.

  • what a great argument for school choice

    break the woke monopoly…
    but never go full Cosby

  • Wayne, she’s a language arts sped teacher. The students have a learning impairment when reading so they don’t comprehend in a normal way. Visually learning through TV media can be more productive so stop being sad. There are a few things that are the same in the movie and the book. In the movie, the cowardly jury didn’t want to equit the black guy either because they were racist or because they were afraid of what the rest of the community would do to them if they let the black guy off. In the Floyd jury, the jury was again cowardly because they swore they would do their duty and they convicted the cop for doing his job. They were cowardly because they were afraid after their name got out that black lives matter and other players would come and burn their house down or kill their dog or worse. So we have two cowardly juries. The other thing that is the same is the black guy was innocent. The horny girl just wanted some companionship. Then lied about it. In the Floyd trial the cop is also innocent. He was doing his job. You watch any episode of cops rebooted on reelz tv, and you’ll see that every time they take somebody down there’s a guy that comes over and kneels on the perps neck. That is what they train police officers to do because if you control the head you control the body. The only mistake The cop made was the length of time that he detained Floyd but as the teacher mentioned, Floyd was guilty of passing counterfeit money, under the influence of narcotics, was in poor health and also resisting arrest. The blame in his death mostly lies on his own shoulders. The other thing that is the same is in the book, the cowardly Lynch mob came to break the African out of jail to kill him and Atticus held them off with the help of his daughter guilting them. In the trial, the Lynch mob In this case was society pressured my current events which is no more than bullies and thugs and politicians associated with bro lives matter. So congratulations Fairbanks administration and School board. You have knelt down to the pressure and are guilty of wrongdoing an innocent person. This is going to cost you dearly in the lawsuit. The teacher was doing their job and it’s sad to find out that the education department wants to rewrite history with lies.

  • My friend wrote the following regarding this matter: “I saw this elsewhere (I think Breitbart) and actually watched the video. The teacher was accosted by some black woman parent claiming that she had no right to say anything about the topic because she (teacher) is a white woman and the black woman accosting her is a “person of color.” The person of color went more or less ballistic with hostility on the teacher for even discussing the topic, insulting her in front of her students, etc., and then filed a complaint with the school, which immediately suspended the teacher, presumably out of political paranoia. Just another example of how mixed up the whole United States is now; people don’t know their ass from a hot rock and believe anything they are told. I really think American society is mentally ill and mixed up beyond repair.”

    As an educator, I am extremely disturbed by Fairbanks story. America, wake up, please!!

  • Julia, the jungle is a brutal place. Live by the jungle rules, die by the jungle rules with lots of collateral damage. At one time civilization rose up and acted civilized. Now we regress to tribal barbarism in too many places while our progressive ‘leadership’ cheers on to divide and control us.

  • The parent is a bigoted racist. That’s plain. If we’re looking for ‘systemic racism’ we found it! it’s called anti-racism and critical race theory.

  • in the 1930’s the Third Reich had regular public book burnings, much like today’s rewriting of history. All in an effort to legitimize a false ideology . The result? In 1930, Nazi Germany; in 2021, the fall of American Democracy. The first is history, the second will be history.

  • Seriously? A white person can not have an opinion about race issues????

  • Not a single thing she said was wrong. Nothing was false, and nothing was off-topic. Go back and read the book, and then read the nonsense spouted by race hustlers trying to make a buck off other folks’ misery. She was right on, and if that offended the perpetually offended, then that’s just too damned bad. If we have to listen to the race hustlers telling us that our skin color is the only determinate of our future, then they have to listen to the other side, where your behavior and choices are what REALLY determine your future. Tell the race hustlers to move along to somewhere else.

  • Proud Alaskan:
    Me too. I got swats in 1st, 6th, 7th and 8th grades. Hurt like hell, but I learned to be disciplined and to respect teachers…….even if I hated them. Corporal punishment was outlawed in the late 70’s. Bring it back!
    +
    ps. I got hit the hardest in the 8th grade by a social studies teacher named Bill Demmert. He later became the AK Commissioner of Education. His paddle had holes drilled into it for less wind resistance. We made the teachers new paddles in shop class, but we asked for lighter duty wood and got it.😉

  • Today’s lesson: Identify the racist comment:

    1. “The parent said that because Gardner is white, she cannot express an opinion about race in America.”

    2. “The parent said that because Gardner is black, she cannot express an opinion about race in America.”

    Extra points if you can use the word “woke” in your answer.

  • Teacher of the Year.

  • Maverick, hahahaha! I remember those days with punishment administered right after the gym shower, leaving two neat rows of circles on our butts. We always wondered why the girls never got it.

  • AK: The girls would cry buckets of tears just seeing the paddle. The boys wouldn’t cry, just shed tears from pain. We had to show that we were real men, and could take it.

  • josephdj, hahahaha. Whacks were numbered by infraction. Certain words would earn 3 and certain teachers really strove for tears. Built character.

  • Hey, Sophie, please move to California or some other place…you’re kind aren’t welcome here.

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