What do you think of Mr. Neck's opinion about who a "real" American is in Speak, and why is his opinion offensive?

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Mr. Neck is Melinda Sordino's social studies teacher in Merryweather High School. He is unprofessional, abuses his authority as a teacher, and bullies students.

In chapter 27, Mr. Neck writes the word "IMMIGRATION" on the board only to go on a rant against immigrants. He blames immigrants for the fact that his son did not get a job as a firefighter.

In Mr. Neck's mind, immigrants take everyone else's jobs. He calls this tendency "reverse discrimination" or discrimination of people who are caucasian. As part of the offensive rant, he prides himself in that the Neck family has been in the United States for over 200 years.

He further offends students by saying that the U.S. should have closed its borders to immigrants at the beginning of the century. This really offends those students whose families came to the U.S. after the 1900s, and a back and forth argument ensues.

Clearly, the statement that immigrants take the jobs of worthy people is false. Jobs are not just given away to people, especially jobs for which you have to qualify and demonstrate skill.

It is true that, in order to maintain a fair balance of employees in terms of demographics, companies and organizations encourage people who are from different cultures and nationalities to apply for positions. Part of this reason is also because the organization or company may way to adapt a global mindset which, in the end, benefits everyone.

Imagine if any profession, job, or company was led and managed by nothing but homogenous people? Who would ever crack the mold to try something different? One of the huge benefits of diversity is that different perspectives lead to new, fresh, and different ideas that may help expand the horizons of the workplace.

The statement that the US should have closed its borders in 1900 is also ignorant.

Of all people, Mr. Neck should be the first to know the plethora of important contributions immigrants have made in the U.S. These include medical discoveries, culinary creations, language diversity, thinking diversity, and much more. Anyone who knows a little bit of history would think twice before blaming immigration for a lack of job security.

Moreover, Mr. Neck's assertion that his family has been in the US for 200 years denotes that his family, too, would have emigrated from somewhere else. What is he talking about, then?

The fact that the rant comes from a social studies teacher is particularly ironic.

As a social studies teacher, Mr. Neck's job is to educate students about society, its laws, its rules, its characteristics, and its history. A narrow minded and biased teacher cannot do a proper job, especially in an American public school setting, where diversity is everywhere and each student contributes in a different way.

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During the Second Marking Period, Mr. Neck, Melinda's history teacher and sworn enemy, storms into class and begins to lecture on the topic of immigration. He states:

My family has been in this country for over two hundred years. We...

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built this place, fought in every war from the first one to the last one, paid taxes, and voted...So tell me why my son can't get a job. (53)

He goes on to tell the kids that his son wasn't able to become a firefighter due to "reverse discrimination," and to solve this problem, the country should "close [the] borders so that real Americans can get the jobs they deserve." (54)

It seems, to Mr. Neck, that "real Americans" were the original founders of the country. They were the white men and women who came here looking for a better life and did whatever they had to do to ensure they would gain control of an already inhabited land. He also feels the borders should have been closed in 1900.

His comments are offensive and problematic for several reasons.

  1. Mr. Neck is a history teacher who, instead of teaching history, is now giving his personal opinion that is implicitly racist.
  2. If, in fact, his family has been here for over two hundred years, then his family were participants in colonization and slavery. His comments suggest his family is owed something when in fact, his family owes the indigenous peoples and people of color who suffered under his privilege.
  3. He negates the validity of any immigrants and or immigrant families in the room who have come to this country in the last hundred years.
  4. He opens a debate yet stops it when the class gives an opinion that is counter to his argument, silencing them in the process, creating an unsafe and unfair space.

His words and actions show how he is close-minded and racist. We also find severe irony in the fact that Mr. Neck, the history teacher, is ignorant of the history of his own country—the content that he is supposed to be teaching. If anyone in America is a "real American," it would be the people who were here before us and still reside on the land to this day.

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Mr. Neck believes that "real Americans" are people who, like his own family, have been in this country since the time of the American Revolution. He says,

"My family has been in this country for over two hundred years. We built this place, fought in every war from the first one to the last one, paid taxes, and voted."

Mr. Neck is angry because his son, who wants to be a firefighter, cannot get a job. He believes that his son's opportunities are somehow being stolen from him because of "some kind of reverse discrimination." Mr. Neck thinks that the United States should close its borders "so that real Americans can get the jobs they deserve." He begins a debate on the assertion that "America should have closed her borders in 1900."

Mr. Neck's opinion is offensive because he is suggesting that, because his family has been here since the founding of the United States of America, they are more deserving than those who have come later. The students understand this, mentally calculating whether or not their ancestors would have arrived before 1900 and thus have made "the Neck Cut." Essentially, Mr. Neck is saying that anyone who arrived in this country after 1900 should not have been allowed to stay.

I personally find Mr. Neck's opinion to be arrogant. I think that his definition of who is a "real American" is arbitrary, and that he conveniently overlooks the obvious fact that the "real Americans" stole the land from the Indians, who were here long before they came. Mr. Neck cannot support his opinion convincingly, and when the discussion turns against him, he becomes authoritarian and stops the debate, angrily saying "I decide who talks in here."

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