I have previously written about the increasing monitoring and discipline of teachers for conduct in their private lives. In San Diego, three high school coaches and a volunteer teacher were suspended for wearing costumes with black face at a Halloween party. They were not doing a minstrel show but were going as the Jamaican bobsled team featured in “Cool Runnings.” The party was at the San Diego State University.
The punished individuals include the varsity head football coach, an assistant coach and a teacher at Serra High School will be suspended. Notably, a volunteer will also be suspended.
People can debate whether wearing makeup to look like a Jamaican bobsled time is racist. My concern is purely one of free of expression and association for teachers. This was not a criminal act. They were not participating in a KKK cross burning. They clearly do not believe that wearing black makeup is racist or wrong. They have a right to make such decisions in their private lives. Nevertheless, both the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League supported action to be taken against the teachers and coach.
I certainly understand why many find black face to be offensive and I am surprised that people continue to use it in costumes. However, free speech and association protects different values and expressions. Citizens are not required to satisfy majoritarian views on proper humor or, as the English call it, “fancy dress.”
Superintendent Cindy Marten took the group out for a public lashing, stating that “[t]hey send their apologies to any person or group of people they have offended and want to make it clear it was not their intention to offend anyone.” She called it a “critical teachable moment” but what does it teach about free speech and privacy for public teachers?
Lei-Chala Wilson, President of the NAACP’s San Diego Branch, praised the discipline and added “We found nothing funny when we saw that picture was posted.” The concern is that public teachers should not have to satisfy others in their private lives as to whether the public finds their jokes funny or their associations acceptable. I was struck how it was simply assumed that such private conduct off-hours are naturally the subject of public discipline and accountability.
What do you think?