High Schoolers Protest Teacher Who Told Spanish-Speaking Students To 'Speak American'

by Meredith Bland
Image via YouTube/

The students staged a walk-out after their teacher’s racist remarks

A New Jersey high school English teacher told some of her Spanish-speaking students to “speak American,” a shameful moment which was caught on video by a student. Now, the teens are protesting her remarks and they’re not being met with as much applause as they deserve.

Last week, a student at Cliffside Park High School recorded a video of their still-unidentified English teacher telling some of her students, who were speaking Spanish in class, to “speak American.” The student posted the video to YouTube, where it’s racking up thousands of views.

“Men and women are fighting. They are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish,” she says in the 27-second clip. “They are fighting for your right to speak American.” Students are heard groaning and some get up and leave the classroom. One student turns back in the doorway and says “I know how to speak English.” The teacher waves and says, “Goodbye. Goodbye.”

Where does one even start with all of the things that are wrong with this? There are too many things, so I’m just going to jump right in: first of all, that is, obviously, deeply racist. Saying that kids who are speaking Spanish aren’t speaking “American” implies that the Spanish language isn’t American, and therefore people who speak Spanish aren’t American, and that that’s because real Americans are white people who speak English. It’s a good thing this woman isn’t a history teacher (or, apparently, socially aware) because she’d be in for quite a shock.

Second, speaking of the subject she teaches, how the hell does an English teacher say, “speak American”? “American” is not a language, it’s a lie made up by nationalists who want to pretend that the only true Americans are English-speaking white Americans. Saying someone should “speak American” doesn’t make sense grammatically, English teacher. As 16-year-old student Anthony Campos told North “Coming from an English teacher — saying to speak American — first of all, that was stupid.” You are 100% right, Anthony. It was incredibly stupid. But it’s also fitting for someone to sound stupid when they’re talking nonsense, don’t you think? It’s like peanut butter and jelly, or this woman and ignorance.

Finally, that is not what our soldiers are fighting for. If you went up to someone serving in Iraq and said, “Thank you for putting yourself in harm’s way so that everyone in America can speak English,” I’d wager the vast majority would say, “…I’m doing what, now?”

Unfortunately for this teacher, she messed with the wrong group of kids. On Monday, approximately 100 Cliffside Park students walked out of class in protest of the teacher’s actions. They waved flags symbolizing their heritage and celebrated the cultures that their teacher showed so little respect for.

The school, meanwhile, has yet to reach a decision about how they’ll handle the incident. The board has met, they’re conducting an investigation, and should have a decision within a week. It’s unclear whether or not the teacher has been suspended while they’re investigating, but students are claiming that they are now being targeted as a result of the walkout.

Before the protest, students were warned over the public address system that there would be consequences if they walked out of class. They did so anyway, because that’s how you stage a mother-effing protest. Since then, students say they have been punished with Saturday detentions and some have been suspended. Students also say that administrators have offered rewards for whoever turns in the student who pulled the fire alarm, which signaled the beginning of the protest.

That should enrage you. These students were subjected to racist comments by one of their teachers, and their school is telling them to keep quiet about it. I thought that we sent our kids to school to prepare them to be good citizens? I thought that the kind of citizens we wanted in this country were those who will stand up for what’s right and protest wrongs? Who wants a country full of people who say nothing when there’s an injustice?

As we’ve seen from the debate over the protests of NFL players trying to bring attention to police brutality, there’s one way that white people feel comfortable with people of color protesting, and that’s not at all. Don’t raise a stink, don’t remind us of the ways we continue to oppress you, and, most of all, don’t disrupt our comfortable lives. But that’s exactly the kind of action our country is supposed to protect at all costs. That’s what our men and women are supposed to be fighting for.

Our hats are off to these students. Hopefully, their school will appropriately punish the teacher at fault and will thank these kids for being brave, strong, and demonstrating what it really means to be an American.