Nationally acclaimed classroom teacher and author Rafe Esquith was placed on administrative leave in March after allegations of misconduct were made against him. What makes the incident peculiar is how and why he was removed from the classroom.
Three months later, L.A. Unified officials have not clearly outlined the allegations against the popular teacher, said his attorney Mark Geragos. But Geragos said he learned that the investigation stemmed from a complaint by another teacher after Esquith read to a class a passage from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.
The passage, which is much longer, includes this section: “The duke and the king worked hard all day, setting up a stage and curtain and row of candles for footlights. … At last, when he’d built up everyone’s expectations high enough, he rolled up the curtain. The next minute the king came prancing out on all fours, naked. He was painted in rings and stripes all over in all sorts of colors and looked as splendid as a rainbow.”
Since it is a personnel issue, the Los Angeles school district isn’t talking, so let’s keep in mind that the only details we have are from Esquith’s lawyer. As messed up as large school districts can be, it is difficult to believe that Esquith, who has been teaching for 30 years, was suspended simply for reading Mark Twain aloud. And accused by another teacher, no less.
I have looked at that passage, and later in the chapter is a lengthy section about Jim, which contains the ‘n’ word in the original text, and a lot of stereotyped vernacular.
Schools all over the country have wrestled with the use of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so perhaps Esquith is a victim of that controversy. Also remember that district administrators decide whether to take disciplinary actions against a teacher, but the collective bargaining agreement dictates the procedures that must be followed. Esquith has one of the most famous attorneys in the country, but we don’t know what kind of union representation he received, or whether the union filed any grievances about his treatment.
Geragos claims Esquith was cleared by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which suggests this complaint was filed on more than one level. I don’t believe it is standard operating procedure for a misconduct complaint to be automatically kicked upstairs to the CCTC.
It is all just speculation at this point but one thing’s for sure: Esquith has a lot of material for a new book.