Ever since Eslea was born, I began paying closer attention to the language that others use. Not only in reference to Eslea herself, but in regards to the world, situations, items. One of the words that has continued to irritate the depth of my soul is the word "retard". This is a word that not so long ago I myself would so easily throw off the tip of my tongue. Yet now, I find it disheartening how easily the word is tossed around where I work. I know that seems impossible that the word can be used found so freely, but it's true. Because for those that do not know, I work in a high school as a counselor.
As today, "Spread the Word to End the Word" day, edged closer I started thinking more about how that word is impacting my life and how often I hear it. Yesterday I decided to just hear for myself how often the word is used. So as I was walking to visit a teacher's classroom, I took time to listen closely to the conversations of those students around me. What I found was that in the span of just 5 minutes, I heard 3 separate conversations with students that used the word: "Man, you a retard" "That was so retarded" "She's retarded". That was three times in only five minutes, taking place in a very small span of hallway in a large high school of almost 2000 students. Three times. Five minutes.
Each time the word was used, I shuddered just a little bit. I could not help but imagine that they were directly referring to my beautiful Eslea. That whatever they were talking about they found so witless or unintelligent that they felt the need to compare it to a human being. Not just any human being, but one like my daughter. My sweet Eslea.
Now, these are good kids. If I would have approached them and asked them if they realized it was demeaning and hurtful to my daughter, they would have apologized. Because these kids know me and they have seen pictures of Eslea. They would never do anything to hurt her or I intentionally. Yet, they are oblivious to the fact that using that word is as wounding to me as if they said it about Eslea herself.
There are so many words out there that are demeaning. To them this may seem like yet another word we are adding to those that are inappropriate. How do I address this? How do I stop it? In a school where the students throw out derogatory words as easily as week old milk, how do I get them to understand?
I had some time this morning alone while Eslea slept and I spent that time pondering those questions.
Basically it all boils down to awareness. Being aware of how our words can impact others.
And this is what I have come up with so far...
1. Our school has participated in "Mix it Up" day for the past few years. This year I can talk with the coordinator about making sure to include the Special Needs classrooms in with the lunchroom activities.
2. I can work towards having opportunities where more students can buddy with a student from the special needs classroom. Maybe in the art or PE class times.
3. Taking time to directly address one student at a time is tricky. I would not want to embarrass a student in front of friends by correcting language because this is a sure way to make a student defensive. Instead, I will make an effort to try and speak with several students privately. Of course this way only reaches one student at at time, yet as we all know, information can spread from student to student like wildfire when in the ears and mouths of high school students.
4. I am asking you, all my friends to share this information. If you are one of my work friends, take time to talk to your students about language and how stereotypes swell by the words we chose.
That's it. Those are my ideas. I would love to hear other ideas and know what you would do if you worked around such a large group of students all day. Heck, I would love to hear anything you're doing to make a change to "End the Word". If you blogged about the r-word yourself, make sure to post your blog in the comment sections so all readers can have the chance to read different viewpoints.
And with that, a video...
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