Rodney Robinson’s tweet suggesting an assault on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was foolish, destructive and unworthy of a 2019 National Teacher of the Year.
Robinson, a senior policy adviser for Richmond Public Schools (RPS), apologized this past week and described as a “bad joke” the tweet in which he called Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s 2017 neighbor and attacker a “true Kentucky Hero” and called for McConnell’s neighbors to “step up.”
The mea culpa didn’t stop Robinson’s critics from demanding his firing during the Richmond School Board’s virtual meeting Monday.
Robinson’s Twitter profile states: “Tweets are mine and not representative of any organization.” That boilerplate disclaimer is meaningless as a practical matter. Anything Robinson tweets reflects on his employer.
Robinson, as an award-winning educator and social justice warrior, is entitled to his outspoken voice. But platforms come with responsibility. Assault is not a joking matter.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand Robinson’s anger, because I share it.
McConnell’s record is worthy of contempt. His obstructionism has broken our politics; his fealty to corporations has caused incalculable harm to families struggling during a pandemic. His enabling of President Donald Trump created a Frankenstein monster intent on trampling democracy.
History will not be kind.
But careless tweets undermine what Robinson is about as an educator and send the wrong message to RPS students in need of lessons in mindfulness, restorative justice and conflict resolution.
Robinson could have singed McConnell with an incisive take. Instead, he made McConnell a victim and placed the focus squarely on himself and his school district. This is not the first time Robinson has courted controversy on Twitter; a tweet about the political leanings of white female teachers raised hackles.
Thursday on Twitter, RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras addressed the incident.
“RPS doesn’t condone violence of any kind. Period,” wrote Kamras, thanking Robinson for the apology. “Words matter — across the political spectrum.”
It was instructive that on the same night Robinson was eviscerated in public comments, people praised Kamras and called for a renewal of his contract.
In August, Kamras announced that Robinson would oversee RPS’ efforts to recruit, support and retain male teachers of color, as well as help implement the school system’s racial justice policy agenda. But Monday, the superintendent got a pass.
This tweet does not come close to erasing the important work Robinson has done. He has worked to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, curb high school dropout rates among students from low-income areas, and created a curriculum on the history of the Virginia juvenile justice system for his students, many of whom were incarcerated.
Still, RPS doesn’t need this distraction as it struggles with a largely impoverished enrollment, chronic academic underachievement and a pandemic that disproportionately affects the health and learning of Black and Latino students.
And yet, the pearl-clutching over Robinson’s tweet is a bit much, given the flamethrowing that passes for public discourse nowadays, from the Oval Office on down. Comity is not a one-way street.
Paul’s wife, Kelley Paul, called Robinson a “hateful thug” and tagged the founder of Twitter. The senator retweeted the post.
Did she have to go there? “Thug” is a dog whistle of a word largely reserved for Black men, criminal or not. Is she judging Robinson by the color of his skin or the content of his (Twitter) characters? Other comments called Robinson dangerous and unfit to be around children. This, about a man cited for the passion he brought to teaching incarcerated students.
It’s as if people haven’t been paying attention to how polarized we are as a nation. Violence permeates our body politic. Robinson didn’t create this environment.
Trump boasted about sexual assault on tape and famously said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” He has incited violence at his political rallies, encouraged police to rough up suspects, cheered a Republican politician from Montana for body-slamming a reporter and recently pardoned war criminals who massacred Iraqi civilians, including women and children.
“For those who challenge my record of advocating for kids, I invite you to do more research on who I am and what I stand for,” Robinson said in his statement Thursday.
He added: “I will always advocate for children in America no matter their race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or physical ability. I was 100% wrong for the Rand Paul/Mitch McConnell joke and once again apologize for my actions. I own this mistake and hopefully my record proves this an anomaly to what I represent.”
What Robinson seeks is best won in the real world. If Twitter obscures what he represents, he might want to step offline.