Special Olympics and Best Buddies International have joined together with a host of other organizations to launch a campaign called Spread the Word to end the Word. Young people around the world are embracing this challenge as they see just how hurtful it can be to call someone a "retard" or claim that something is "retarded." While it probably doesn't fall officially into the category of hate speech, it feels just like that to an intellectually disabled person, his or her friends and family.
Let me start out my comments by saying that I am not a fan of political correctness. One of the costs of a free society is the fact that we need to live with people who choose to use freedoms to be rude, obnoxious and even hateful. Given that, it is important to remember that a school setting is not the same as the outside world. School is a place for learning; it is a place where kids need to feel safe and comfortable.
Regardless of whether we are talking about school or talking about society, there is a tenet that I believe we should all live by: JUST BECAUSE WE CAN DOESN'T MEAN WE SHOULD. Outlawing words should not be the job of the government, but should be the responsibility of good people who care about others. The use of labels such as "retard" to demean others or to refer to something as stupid is simply unacceptable to good people who care about others. Many people, young people in particular, throw terms around with little regard as to how they will affect others. "I wasn't talking about a person" or "It means stupid, not anything against a mentally challenged person" are just a couple of the excuses that I've heard when someone was called on the carpet for using the term.
I'm not sure if you know anyone who is intellectually disabled. I do. Outside of their disability, most people would claim that these people are just the same as you and me. I don't think that is true. The intellectually disabled people that I know, young and old alike, are kinder, gentler and more innocent than anyone I know. The people I know with intellectual disabilities don't tend to judge others, are more apt to accept others and are quick to show affection. The intellectually disabled people I know don't feel sorry for themselves, work hard and overcome more challenges in a day than you or I will face in a lifetime.
Being the principal of a school, I deal with hundreds of students every day. I also deal with countless conflicts and challenges. It is easy to get upset, frustrated and sometimes even angry. Nothing makes me feel better than sharing some time with one of my favorite students. She's happy. She likes to joke around. She understands playful sarcasm. She loves to share her successes. She's willing to accept help with her challenges. She would never hurt anyone. She always puts a smile on my face. Oh, yeah, and she's got an intellectual disability. Nothing makes me feel worse than seeing someone being hurtful to her by using the R-word. You don't have to call her it, when you say it, it hurts. You don't have to say it when she's around, her friends and family are hurt when you say it. You don't have to be malicious when you say it, when you trivialize it, it hurts.
When I heard about the campaign to Spread the Word to end the Word I was excited. I was excited because this is an opportunity to do something right, not because we have to, but because we should. If you think this whole thing is over the top and oversensitive, I challenge you to spend some time at the Special Olympics or a local Buddy Walk. I bet if you do, you'll meet someone just like one of my favorite students. He or she will make you smile. He or she will not judge you. He or she will inspire you. He or she will convince you that we should actively work to "end the word." Not because we must, but because we should.
If you would like to take the pledge to "end the word" you can go to http://www.r-word.org/.
Check out actor John C. McGinley's message about Ending the R-word
Want to share this message with your son or daughter? Check out Joe Jonas's message at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8doRD9MB0Qw
The time has come to End the R-word - not because we must, but because we should.