2009.07.22 Think before you speak

Written by David Green.

Son-in-law Taylor fills in

 

By TAYLOR BALLINGER

Every time I come to Michigan I can expect to write a column. It’s just the way it works. I guess when you marry a newspaper editor’s daughter it is to be expected, especially when you have no other transferable skills to bring to the new family. But never have I tried two in one week, which has stretched my brain a bit considering it’s summer and I’m a teacher so it’s bona-fide break time.

I’ve spent the past two days trying to figure out the topic of my second column. I couldn’t think of anything too topical or funny. It’s too early to start writing about basketball. I certainly don’t want to upset the readers by breaking down the clear superiority of SEC football, especially in comparison with the Big Ten. 

So, after much thought, I have decided to share with you something that has weighed heavily on my heart for the past two years, which is the overwhelming commonness with which the r-word is used.

The r-word, for those of you who are not educators or friends/family of a person with special needs, is “retarded.” It is a word which I threw around with regularity in my days as a schoolboy, and a word that continues to be used rather loosely in many circles today.

A person who tripped in the hallway at school was a “retard.” Someone who had a hard time getting a point across was being “retarded.” A bad TV show automatically received the “retarded” label. It was easy to make fun of anyone by simply calling them a “retard” and making mocking hand gestures.

Then, two years ago, I started teaching Special Education. Most of my students fall under the actual definition of Mental Retardation, with varying degrees of severity, though those words are almost never used in formal settings.

My every waking moment has seemingly been devoted to my students since I have been teaching, and one thing has become abundantly clear; mental retardation does not equal stupid, and the word retard should certainly never be a synonym for something we may perceive as such.

Despite any number of academic and/or intellectual challenges, my students are smart. They are thoughtful, they are capable, and they are desperately willing to learn. Sure, they struggle with certain things. Most of my students are low-readers. Reading isn’t something that is naturally easy to them, and teaching them to become better readers requires much patience and inventiveness. But they’re not stupid. Some of my students have a hard time making rational decisions. They may not understand the logical reasoning of a cause and effect relationship. But they’re not stupid.

Just as a person who needs glasses to see should not be labeled as stupid and have to deal with extreme degradation, a person with special needs who requires extra assistance in school, independent living, or anything else should not be forced to live with the fact that their handicap is forever associated with stupidity.

Getting the r-word out of your vocabulary is not always easy. Some of my closest friends have needed to be admonished by me over and over. The easiest thing for me and Rosie is to be cognizant of what we’re describing when we may be tempted to use the r-word. If we’re angry about a bad waiter, he’s not retarded, he’s incompetent. If we’re upset about a bad movie, it’s not retarded, it’s poorly made. If we feel like laughing about someone who fell down in the park, he or she is not a retard, just a bit clumsy.

If that doesn’t work, try what I like to call the “ol’ switcheroo.” If you feel yourself about to call something retarded, stop, and say “reee-diculous.” Over time, you’ll get used to saying ridiculous, or just describing things as they are, instead of making a simple blanket insult.

It would be foolish of me to expect that you all will have the same connection to people with special needs as I have had since 2007. If you do, there is no doubt in my mind that you will view them in a different light. For those of you who will have limited interactions with people with special needs, remember they’re as smart and capable as anyone else.

Thinking anything else is just ridiculous.

  • Front.rest
    TAKE A BREAK—Last Wednesday’s session of Stair District Library’s Summer Reading Program ended with a quiet period in a class presented by yoga instructor Melany Gladieux of Toledo. Children learned a variety of yoga poses in the main room at the library, then finished off the session relaxing. Additional photos are on page 7. Area children are invited to visit the library today when the Michigan Science Center presents a flight program at 11 a.m. and roller coasters at 1 p.m.
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.snake
    Lannis Smith of the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor shows off a python last week at Stair District Library's Summer Reading Program.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
  • Pipeline Spread
    LINED UP—Lengths of pipe were put in place last week along the route of the Rover natural gas pipeline that will stretch from Defiance, Ohio, to Ontario, Canada. Topsoil was removed before the pipes were laid out. The 42-inch diameter pipeline is scheduled for completion in November.
  • Front.rock Study
    ROCKHOUNDS—From the left, Joseph McCullough, Sean Pagett and Jonathan McCullough peer through hand lenses to study rocks. The project is part of Morenci Elementary School’s summer camp that continues into August.

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