DUNLAP, Tenn. – A crossword puzzle assigned as a homework lesson for fifth-graders studying a book about the 19th-century South asked them to use a racial slur — the N-word — as an answer.
At least one parent complained and the teacher, who is white, apologized to the parents of her students, said Donald Johnson, principal of Sequatchie County Middle School.
Johnson said the teacher obtained the crossword from a Web site, edHelper.com, a membership Web site that offers reading lessons, puzzles and other materials for teachers to download for use in class.
No phone number or contact name was listed on the Web site. An e-mail seeking comment Tuesday was not immediately returned.
A parent, Clifford Branan, said his son's teacher assigned the homework Friday, as a supplement to "Sounder," a book his class is reading. The book is commonly used in classrooms nationwide to illustrate racial bigotry and sharecropping hardships through the eyes of a young black boy.
Branan said he could not believe the puzzle with words like cabin, smokehouse and lantern also included the N-word along with its clue, "17 across: An insulting way to label a black person."
He said the word crosses the line between history and hate. "It's not something you want to teach," Branan said.
"A mistake was made," Johnson said Tuesday. "This word should have never come up on a worksheet like this. I can't defend it."
Johnson said the teacher, whom he declined to identify, "justifies it as a way to teach about how it was at that time."
Johnson said the puzzle answers were words associated with the book. The principal said he was unsure if any black students were given the assignment.
Dunlap is about 22 miles northwest of Chattanooga.