2009.07.22 Think before you speak

Written by David Green.

Son-in-law Taylor fills in



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.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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