Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Worse Than the F Bomb

I used the word "retard" in my classroom today.

Can you believe that students with disabilities actually use this word on each other? It is a widely used, widely misused, word.

It makes me incredibly mad.

I talked to my students today about bullying each other. It's something they do with each other, just like a lot of other teenagers. The teasing, the name calling, the picking on each other. There are several students who get really fired up and loud, they are the most fun to tease, since they can really put on a show.

I told the kids that the word r-word makes me madder than the f-word. That made a few eyes go wide.

I just don't get it. And I hear it a lot. Kids use it as a common adjective, synonymous with dumb or stupid. Only it has a little more bang to it, I guess.

I also hear plenty of adults using it. "That's retarded." "My mother-in-law is such a retard."


It is not okay to use that word. Just like you wouldn't use any other derogatory word about a group of people to perpetuate a stereotype. Well, some people do that too, but they shouldn't.

The students I teach are diagnosed with mental retardation, mental handicap, or cognitive disabilities, intellectual disabilities. Nebraska state law uses the term mental handicap (mild, moderate, or severe), but the other terms get used elsewhere. It's all the same thing, but it doesn't deserve to be used as a word for dumb.

My students can learn. They are differently abled. They bleed, they cry, they feel. They laugh, they love, they soar. They are people, deserving of respect for the challenges they face, deserving of being treated like...people.

I've been trying to articulate my feelings on this post since the controversy about the ridiculous
Ben Stiller movie (an actor that I usually enjoy) that used the word numerous times. There are several blogs I read that have talked about boycotting the movie, and believe me, I won't be watching that movie. Michelle at Big Blueberry Eyes knows plenty about it, as does LuvMyPeanut. Visit either one of these lovely ladies and you'll get the scoop.

I've also considered ending my reading of celeb news at Perez Hilton (total guilty pleasure, I do in secret on my google reader). He uses the term "celebutard" when describing celebrities' offspring. It's not funny.

So today I taught my students something else. The word retard is not allowed in my classroom. Several have known it before today, when I corrected their individual behavior. Now they all know. I went there and laid it all out for them.

I just really hope they were listening. That you are listening.

Retarded is not an appropriate adjective. Retard is not a funny word.
Please don't use it.

You can read more on the topic here. If you're interested.



Anonymous said...

What a great post, OM.

It shocks me that people use the term 'retard' in this day and age.
Whenever I hear people use the term retard (and yeah, Perez Hilton's phrase rankles me, too) I think less of them.

I was 6 -- and because I'm old, this means it was 1979 -- and my mother heard me use 'retard' as an adjective for...something. She laid down the law that I was never to use the term EVER AGAIN. Using it made me look ignorant and mean. I was to use the phrase "developmentally delayed" and NOTHING ELSE.

My mother made me drop ONE word from my vocabulary, and yet it changed by entire perspective on people who are merely developmentally different from me, yet identical to me in ALL the ways that count. I think it's a powerful lesson: change your words, change your mind.

Jenifer said...

Great post. I have used that word in the past, not about people personally just in general about something that I didn't like or went badly. I have made a conscience effort now though to drop it, one because it is just an inappropriate word to use and because my girls repeat everything I say and I would not want them to start using that word either.

There are actually many words I am trying not to use, it seems we have let many words creep into everyday language that are neither appropriate or kind.

nikkis30by30 said...

I find it hard at times to not use that word too. And the thing that is worst about it is that it shouldn't be so hard. And, you know me, I am not using it to degrade people, I use it to convey some stupid point. I don't like the word either. I have had this talk with my kids, too. I am glad that your "kids" (because well I feel like your students are your kids too) got it yesterday and I agree.... hopefully they were actually listening and remember it today!!!

If not.... hey.... they are kids.... remind them!!!! They will remember sooner or later!!!

GREAT post!!!!

Twinny said...

The days of the "Shock Jocks" and people seeing how far they can push the envelope are still running strong. Growing up it was common for girls to refer to each other by hurtful name that we were trained brought us 'closer.' Seriously, did it really make you feel closer to someone when they lovingly refer to you as the B word? Jenifer is right, we need to try to drop these negative words and phrases from our daily life and teach our children to think before they speak. Let the movement begin with mothers . . .

Twinny said...

(Twinny silently steps off her soapbox . . .) ; )

Erin said...

Delurking to say,


It is a terribly, horribly hurtful word. Most people who use it have no idea how disrespectful it is and how deeply it cuts.

luvmypeanut said...

awww shucks now I'm blushing!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and educating those who need it!

BTW... I'm in southwest Omaha, so come out to 180th and Harrison and see the sunflowers!!! LOL

Jen said...

I really dislike the use of this word as well, and I'm so glad that you addressed the issue with your class. Everyone who has commented is correct - we really need to work to remove these negative words from our vocabulary.

Aliki2006 said...

Fabulous post, Omaha--I really think you did a great job pointing this out. I hope others read, take note, and pass it on.

Michelle said...

Wow I can't believe your students use this word against each other...that's sad; I wonder if their parents know they do this. I'm sure you got your message across to them; hopefully they'll take it to heart.

Thanks for such a well-written post!

kristi said...

Yes, I have heard people use special and say, "NOT SHORT BUS SPECIAL" and it riled me up!

thirtysomething said...

THANK YOU for posting your feelings on this. I am right there with you. It INFURIATES me to hear kids and adults alike using the r-word, just because it is "hip" according to the urban slang rules. It must not be tolerated.

Mama said...

The "R" word might be like the "N" word. Remember when friends called each other "N"? I was so upset but I was told that was okay.. never like it. Now I'm hearing a lot (Okay, I heard it on Oprah.) about it NOT being okay. Maybe you need to do that with the "R" word IT IS NOT OK.

Mary-LUE said...

When I grew up, it was common to use that word as an insult. It was definitely a part of the world I lived in. In fact, my middle initial is R and it used to get used on me.

At some point, I realized that word was one of "those" words... words that I can't even think in my mind without feeling bad about it.

The horrible thing is that I've been hearing it from a certain teenage source in my home. I've spoken with him about it, why it isn't a good word to use, etc. But just having it in my head again... after all these years... it slipped out of my mouth this past summer. It was horrible. It still makes me feel sick when I think about it.

Words like that are insidious. That whole, what goes in, comes out definitely has some truth in it. I think making choices to avoid places where you hear them is a good choice.

TRS said...

Great post... and I agree this word should never be used to describe people.

But... I maintain my right to use it as an English language word. To describe something that is so interfered with that it will not progress.

From Webster's: To delay the progress of.

For example, people registering their cars in Council Bluffs to avoid the wheel tax in Omaha - that's retarded logic. It doesn't benefit anyone to the degree of the effort put into it. (this wheel tax example was the first example that I could pull out of the air - not an issue I'm passionate about or anything.)

I believe if we use language PROPERLY - everyone wins.
Just my two cents.

Omaha Mama said...

I agree that the word retard has its own meaning in the English language that is separate from its use in regards to people with disabilities. Problem being, that when it is used in any form to describe something stupid or dumb, it is as if it is a comparison of people with intellectual disabilities. The only way I can see using the word in a way that doesn't muddy its definition is when it is used as a verb, such as something that retards the growth of a living thing, etc. When used as an adjective, I think it almost always brings thoughts of the stereotypes of those with disabilities. That's why it angers people so.

Jaimie said...

Hello :)

I found your blog through Michelle over at Big Blueberry Eyes. I am in my last year in a moderate-intensive special education program, methods now - student teaching in the spring. Methods is pretty much hell, but I should make it through!

Anyways, I really like your blog. I was wondering if I could post a copy of your r-word post on my blog. Could I also verbally copy it in my own classroom next year? (ohmygosh.scary.teaching.soon.eep.)