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.

  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.carry.casket
    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
  • Front.lift
    MORENCI student Dalton McCowan puts everything into a dead lift attempt Saturday morning during the Wyseguy Push/Pull event. Lifters helped raise more than $1,600 for the family of the late Devin Wyse, a former Morenci power-lifter who graduated last year. Commemorative T-shirts are still available by contacting teacher Dan Hoffman.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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