Michigan teacher Susan Johnson was suspended for three days, two without pay, simply for playing a song about marriage equality in her class. That song, “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, raises questions about how people are treated for being gay. Now, Macklemore has responded to her mistreatment:
I believe that Ms. Johnson getting suspended is completely out of line and unjust. However, I think it’s important for moments like these to be exposed and for us to pay attention and respond. This level of intolerance and fear is still very active in America, but at times is not completely visible. This incident is just one of tens of thousands that have happened across the country where schools have exposed a latent homophobia, preventing safe space for all young people to feel confident in being themselves. It’s clear that Ms. Johnson felt bullying and “gay bashing” were issues that needed to be addressed, and by doing so, was punished.
I wrote the song “Same Love,” not with the expectation that it would cure homophobia and lead to marriage equality across the US (although that’d be awesome). It was written with the hope that it would facilitate dialogue and through those conversations understanding and empathy would emerge. This incident demonstrates how too often we are quick to silence conversations that must be had. Even if people disagree, there is far more potential for progress when people are vocal and honestly expressing their thoughts about gay rights. When we are silent and avoid the issue, fear and hatred have a far greater life span.
It’s discouraging that a song about love and civil rights has led to a teacher getting suspended from her job. But that’s where we are at. For those of us who get a pit in our stomach when reading a story like this, it just makes it abundantly clear there is far more work to be done.
Unfortunately, the school is standing by its action, and is finally speaking out. According to the district, teachers have to submit a completed form about any clip proposed for use in class for approval by a building administrator. In addition, there’s an expectation that teachers identify curriculum benchmarks for every clip “to ensure that instructional materials are appropriate for the course and its students.” Johnson was teaching a performing arts class, so a timely pop song about a relevant social issue for students is easily justified.
The school’s implication seems to be that teachers cannot be entrusted to exercise any creative approaches in their classes or ever incorporate student’s own interests. It also sounds like anything broaching the subject of LGBT issues is not “appropriate,” essentially proving the very point Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were trying to make.