I am a product of Sullivan County Schools, both as a student and as a teacher. I am now retired. The Sullivan County Board of Education’s decision not to reinstate Matthew Hawn to his teaching position surprised and saddened me.
The high school in Sullivan County that I attended was a kind, safe and caring place. However, my time there was probably the most difficult four years of my life. The 1960s were a time of incredible change in the USA. With Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, the evolving music scene and other issues, there was much to think about and unpack for a high school student. The school was completely isolated from and disinterested in any of this. It was an extremely insular place. For a young man trying to make sense of the world, it was very frustrating.
The only exception was Mr. Post, my 10th grade English teacher. We spent the first semester studying Julius Caesar by Shakespeare. He explained how Shakespeare was relevant to our time, and he challenged us to think critically about ourselves in the context of the world in which we lived.
I am sure Mr. Hawn's case is complex and a challenge to school administrators. If there was a problem with Mr. Hawn's teaching, he should have been working alongside a mentor teacher with specific goals and a timeline for improvement as opposed to firing. Every school needs people like Mr. Post or Mr. Hawn. Without teachers like them, many students will leave high school uninspired and unprepared for the diverse world they will encounter.
Sullivan Central High School seems to be a good place, but it is lacking in ethnic and ideological diversity. That places the students at a big disadvantage in today’s world. The school board's actions have precluded the students from being part of a serious discussion about race in America anytime soon because teachers will be afraid to bring it up. For these reasons, Mr. Hawn should return to the classroom because the students still need him.