Melissa Hussain: Her Side of the Controversy

We’ve been writing about Melissa Hussain, the 8th grade science teacher in North Carolina who was first suspended, and then transferred to an administrative post. See: Follow-Up on Suspended NC Science Teacher. But other than indirect references to her Facebook account, we haven’t heard from her. Until now.

Melissa has written a column appearing in the News & Observer, a daily newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina. That’s in Wake County where this affair occurred. The column is titled Learning from a classroom controversy. Here are some excerpts, and except as indicated, the bold font was added by us:

I am happy to be back at work and thrilled about my new position with Wake County Public School System. I return having learned a valuable lesson in tolerance and humility earlier this year while teaching evolution to my eighth-grade students at West Lake Middle School in Apex.

Aha! We’ve had our suspicions from the beginning, but that is our first real evidence that this matter did indeed involve evolution in science class. Let’s read on:

Evolution is a subject that often raises questions from inquisitive young students. The scientific theories we teach about the Earth’s history don’t always fit nicely with the Bible stories about how God created the world. I certainly understand the challenge of trying to reconcile scientific facts and religious beliefs – it’s an issue that I personally dealt with when I was growing up.

As a lifelong Christian, I purposely kept my own views about evolution out of the classroom. Out of respect for other students’ religious beliefs, I asked that my students refrain from bringing religion into our classroom discussions.

This changes everything. In our last post about this matter, we relied on a UPI news story that forthrightly described Melissa as a Muslim. (Despite Melissa’s name, our previous post made no assumption about her faith.) Now it turns out that UPI was in error. So was everyone who assumed that UPI was reliable. This is looking more and more like a typical creationism controversy, with an overlay of bad journalism. We continue:

But last year, I experienced something that had never happened before in my teaching career. Students began to question my religious beliefs and started spreading rumors than I was a Muslim or an atheist.

Those rumors were all over the blogosphere. We don’t rely on blog gossip, so we refrained from even speculating about that — until the UPI story. Here’s more:

My new last name – I was married before the school year started and began teaching with my new married name, Mrs. Hussain – and my decision not to share my Christian beliefs with students fueled the fire. I was accused of throwing away a picture of Jesus (it was a folded note passed between students that I did not open) and refusing to allow a student to read the Bible (reading any type of outside material during instruction time is inappropriate.) [Bold font in the original.]

We certainly got the “throwing away Jesus” episode all wrong. From the news stories we saw, we got the impression that the Jesus picture was lying on her desk, having been placed there by some student as an affront to a Muslim, and Melissa just tossed it in the trash. Hey, whatdaya know? There are two sides to every story.

But what about all the Facebook stuff? Melissa’s column mentions that:

The students’ disrespectful behavior finally got to me right before winter break when I learned from another teacher that some students referred to me as a “Jesus hater.” When I got home, I shared my frustrations with friends and family on my private Facebook account, which became public without my knowledge after Facebook changed its privacy settings last year.

We should all be careful what we do on the internet. Nothing is private. Melissa should have known that.

Okay, here’s one more excerpt, and then you can click over to the News & Observer and read the whole column:

It was an ironic situation. I had vented about the perceived intolerance of my students, and now I was the one who appeared intolerant.

Very ironic. We’re delighted to hear Melissa’s side of things. We’ve been writing about The Controversy for a long time. We can almost always sense the presence of an evolution vs creationism story, which is why we thought from the start that this was — deep down — a tale about science being taught to a bunch of creepy kids by a teacher who wasn’t able to handle a difficult classroom situation. We still think we got that part right. Like everyone else, we blew the rest of the story.

We were also wrong in our prior post about Melissa when we said that we had seen the last of this story. Well, we’ve been wrong before. But maybe now we’re really finished with this one. In that case, we wish you well, Melissa.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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4 responses to “Melissa Hussain: Her Side of the Controversy

  1. This story is frustrating on many levels. While it is all well and good that things worked out well, there are still some serious issues here.

    1. She was only able to “clear her name” after she stated she was a life-long Christian. I feel that if she had said she was not a Christian, things would have gotten worse before they got better.
    2. She had to justify her name. “Its not MY name, its just the name of my husband.” Hussain may sound like a Muslim name, but that is irrelevant.
    3. Rumors of being a Muslim or an Atheist shouldn’t be considered rumors. Rumor implies that either of these things is shameful, and they are not.

    It seems like Melissa was upset that she was labeled as different. This offended her (just as it offended the students and parents who mistakenly thought she was different) and she vented about being labeled.

    Come to find out, she isn’t different at all! Rejoice! We don’t have a traitor amongst us. No got hating atheists or christian hating Muslims. Just a good old fashioned christian teacher. Whew, close one.

    I think she did learn an important lesson and I think she has relayed that message to her students. DON’T BE DIFFERENT, IT SUCKS!

    Nice message.

  2. Thegoodman says:

    While it is all well and good that things worked out well, there are still some serious issues here.

    Yes, lots of them. I still think teaching evolution was a big factor, but none of the stories are playing that up. Another big factor is that Melissa didn’t handle the classroom situation very well at all. Yes, the kids were jerks, and so too were their parents. Nothing unique about that. But Melissa didn’t do much to defuse things.

  3. I wonder what sort of reception her replacement will receive. Are the school going to bow before “pupil pressure” and appoint a creationist sympathiser. Is there going to be another Freshwater in science classes or will sense prevail. I hope Curmy will keep us informed.

  4. Adrian says: “I hope Curmy will keep us informed.”

    If Google catches it, I’ll post it. If it doesn’t make the news, then we’ve seen the last of it.