Readin', 'Ritin', 'Rithmetic, and . . . Respect?
homeschool program that teaches respect as part of its health curriculum. This post concerns respecting the individuals behind still another R-word that has made headlines lately.
Almost every day, my Inbox contains at least one email encouraging me to sign a petition to Ban the R-Word. Until recent weeks, many people didn't know what "the R-word" referred to. Now, with several prominent political figures either using the word or talking about the use of the word, almost everyone realizes it's a polite way to say "retarded" and similar derivatives.
Although my necessary use of the actual words might cause some who are already sensitive to this issue to cringe, as mother of a five-year-old with Down syndrome, I can't resist commenting on the controversy.
There are two similar R-words, and I have different feelings about each of them. There is no nice way to say "retard". Using your kindest tone of voice, try using that word in any context. Words such as "retard" (or "spaz", which I know hurts our family friend with cerebral palsy) are offensive name-calling, plain and simple, and my own children have been taught not to say them.
But I'm not offended by the term "mentally retarded", when used to explain an individual's challenges. I sometimes say it myself because there are still people who don't know what Down syndrome is. Unless you work in the fields of medicine or education, you may not know the politically correct term for mental retardation is now "developmentally delayed". Besides being a mouthful to spit out, if I tell someone my son is "developmentally delayed", they usually give me a blank stare. "Mentally retarded" is an accurate term that needs no explanation.
Many who have family or friends with developmental delays prefer that term because "retarded" has such negative connotations. They want to see "the R-word" eliminated entirely, even when used to appropriately refer to an individual's medical diagnosis.
The sad reality is that, no matter WHAT term is used to refer to people like my son, there are those who will misuse it. If the term "developmentally delayed" replaces "mentally retarded" in the general population, the same people who conk their heads and say, "I am sooo retarded," when they make a mistake or label an unwise suggestion a "retarded idea" will slowly begin using the new term too.
Instead of constantly changing the acceptable terminology, let's teach our children to avoid using ANY words in a disrespectful way. One of my children once made a mistake while reading and joked, “I must be dyslexic!” I had to ask, “Would you have said that if someone whom you knew had that particular learning disability was in the room?”
If you have a legitimate reason to discuss my son's extra chromosome, saying he is mentally retarded isn't going to offend me. Any use of the word "retard" causes me to show my claws. Referring to someone's idea as "retarded" might prompt me to point out the inaccuracy of your statement. My son has come up with some BRILLIANT ideas to compensate for the challenges he faces.
People who continue to use offensive terminology after being made aware that it’s offensive usually fall into two groups. There are those who have their own message to present and choose to do so by being deliberately offensive; and, there are those who feel the offended parties are overly sensitive or without a sense of humor. I try to teach my children to adopt a “Do unto others . . . “ attitude. We don’t deliberately offend and we don’t judge someone’s right to be offended. If it’s within our power, we simply avoid doing or saying things that make others feel disrespected.
Homeschoolers, as a group, do a great job of teaching respect! What opportunities have you found to teach your children about the additional R?