There’s nothing wrong with offering a class discussing hot-button political/social topics in high school; it’s not a bad idea for students to be up to date on the various issues, and understanding the motivations of everyone involved, in a way you wouldn’t normally find in a typical class.
But that class needs to be taught by someone who can steer students through those minefields in a responsible way.
That’s apparently not what teacher Kim Johnson did at Morton High School in central Illinois for several years. Normally a French teacher, Johnson taught sections of a class called “American Problems.” Since 2009, however, students say she’s been injecting her own conservative opinions into the class, while saying things that had no business inside a public school.
WMBD’s Darronté Matthews spoke to several former students and current administrators about what Johnson’s been accused of saying.
“She claimed to have a very impartial role and it very much quickly turned into her spewing her own opinions,” [2017 graduate Maya] Phan said. “Her opinions were often very hurtful and very much either racist or homophobic and she would say it in front of everybody in class not knowing whether people are LGBT+ in the classroom.”
“She basically said that people that looked like me, she wouldn’t have any problem if I got stopped at an airport for no reason because it’s a better use of police allocation and funding,” Phan said. “She proceeded to ask me if I was gay in front of the entire class. She warned a boy to be careful at a college party because girls like to cry rape.”
“I remember comments being made like if you were gay that was because you weren’t wanted in your parent’s womb,” one former student who had Johnson’s class in 2017, said.
Andrew Irwin said he had the same class back in 2009 and said he witnessed similar actions.
“I signed up for American Problems with the intention and the hope to learn about the problems that were facing America, and it was very early on in the semester that Kim Johnson shared with our class that she thought being gay was a choice,” Irwin said. “And it was at that time that it became clear to me that there wasn’t going to be a lot of productive learning going on in that classroom.”
“She was incapable from what I could tell from separating her responsibilities as an educator with her religious beliefs,” Irwin said.
While the district says it’s investigating the matter, the concern is that these problems were brought to their attention years ago and nothing happened. If the administrators didn’t care in the past, why should anyone believe they’ll care now? A teacher who doesn’t respect her students shouldn’t be in a classroom, period. Let her work at a conservative church where hate and bigotry are prerequisites for the job, not at a public school where children deserve better.