“You call your friends retards when they’re acting retarded.”

“I would have never called him that if I knew. You don’t call retarded people retards. It’s bad taste. You call your friends retards when they’re acting retarded.”

Ah, the infamous quote of Michael Scott from the Office. Steve Carell’s character is noteworthy for never, ever, ever having any boundaries or limits of what is and is not inappropriate. Its funny in the Office, as it stands in satire of what a boss should never ever be like. It’s not so funny when someone like Ann Coulter decided to take it upon herself to tweet that President Obama is a retard. This received backlash–shocking!!– and she responded with this nauseating article (literally nauseating. I have never been so disgusted with someones backpedaling in my life.)

She, in a very Michael Scott esque style, says, “Look, no one would refer to a Down Syndrome child, someone with an actual mental handicap, by saying ‘retard.’ Where do you think the words ‘imbecile,’ ‘idiot,’ ‘moron,’ ‘cretin’ come from? These were all technical terms at one time. ‘Retard’ had been used colloquially to just mean ‘loser’ for 30 years,” Coulter insisted. “But no, no — these aggressive victims have to come out and tell you what words to use.”

…..Good one, Ann.

Luckily, her critics are more eloquent than she is, particularly this athlete who penned a response that kindly shuts her down in an educated and well articulated way. He has Downs, and highlights the triumphs that he has seen in his life and from people who also has downs. He asks if she was trying to send Obama a compliment, because of all the things that people with Downs can and have achieved. And then he ends it with this goosebumps giving statement:

“Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.”

Beautiful. But the point of my post doesn’t just have to do with Coulters insensitivity. It poses for me a larger question: what do we do about the mini Coulters in our classroom, the bullies who still want to use ‘retard’ as a derogatory statement? This, and calling someone ‘gay’, happen so many times a day. How do we use classroom management as teachers to stop this behaviour? We can’t stop their parents from saying it, them from hearing it in the media, or older ‘wiser’ adults from saying it. But we can make it absolutely unacceptable in our classrooms.

Does anyone have any ideas over how to do this? For me, my gameplan is this:

I want to have students, in the first week of class, establish rules for the classroom. I think if they have a stake in them, then they will be less likely to act out. One of my rules will be words that we are not allowed to use in a derogatory fashion, and then hopefully some brilliant little kiddo will shout out ‘gay!’ and ‘retard!’.

That’s phase one. Phase two will come at them Love and Logic style… If I ever hear a kid using one of those words I plan to say something along the lines of (pair this with a death stare) “In my classroom, I do not tolerate those words being used in a derogatory way. Prove to me that you know the real meaning of those words by never using them again, and I won’t make you scrub the dirt off all of the desks after class. From here on out, how you use that word is your choice but the consequences are not. Choose wisely.”


Anyone else thought about this or had any tactics they’d try?



4 thoughts on ““You call your friends retards when they’re acting retarded.”

  1. kreidern says:

    I have thought about this, too, and “retard” and “gay” are probably the two words I never want to hear in my classroom. I’d rather hear cuss words than those words, in all honesty, even though all aren’t acceptable in a professional school setting. I like your approach to how you’ll address this, but knowing high school/middle school students, these kids who ARE saying those words are rebellious in somewhat of their own sense or learned that saying those words are “cool” and there’s no way some teacher is going to convince them differently. Because I feel like “retard” and “gay” has become so insulting nowadays to use, I would go so far as to create a short (like 5mins or less) discussion about WHY these words have turned so derogatory, and I’ll explain in detail why I hate to use those words like that. I used to say “retarded” all the time. “Omg, this class is so retarded.” And I remember a teacher in early high school (must have been 10th grade) said that we shouldn’t use those words and literally my thought was “whatever.” (I know, I was an eloquent thinker back then). But it wasn’t until late high school and my civics teacher had a long discussion during class about the inappropriate use of these words that I changed my mind and stopped saying it. He not only went in depth about how derogatory and hurtful it is, but went so far as to almost guilt-trip us (mostly me, because I was actually guilty of the crime). He said that calling something “retarded” or “gay” has transformed into the new “nigger” (please excuse my language). “Nigger” was used by racists to put down people by the color of their skin. Now people have gone so far to use “gay” or “retard” to classify an entire group of people by the way they are or what they choose, regardless of ethnic, cultural, or economic background. Ever since I thought about these words in this context, I have stopped using them altogether and practically cringe every time I hear it. Calling somebody or something “nigger” is a taboo and horrible today–we grew up with that notion that we just don’t call people that and it’s really, really bad. Now I feel like we to focus on the next generation and these “new” words, and that “retard” and “gay” have the same connotations, and they are not acceptable vocabulary.

  2. mhuntzinger says:

    Wow. I can’t believe that that statement was made by an adult. I think that just goes to show how publicly acceptable it has become to use words like “retard” or “gay” in a derogatory fashion. It’s really in bad taste. I do not think that it is acceptable to use these words in this way and I think that we, as teachers, can help put an end to their derogatory use by making them unacceptable to use in our classrooms. I think that most of the time, kids aren’t saying those words to be insulting. They hear their friends use them and adapt that language too. I believe that we need to make kids aware of the true meaning of those words. I think it’s worth taking a few minutes of class to look up the dictionary definition and discuss what it really means to use the word. I think this is a very important issue and that use of those words should be unacceptable.

  3. bonnetnicholas says:

    It would be interesting to make the kids do research into the word or disability they are referring to in a negative light. When you come across articles like the one John Franklin wrote, it’s hard to use those words without having a nagging sense of inaccuracy and wrongness. If a kid in your class continues to use these slurs, I think it’s important to educate them, tie it into your content somehow, and not let it get swept under the rug. If the only thing we ever provide is an avenue for tolerance and acceptance, we’re doing more for our kids than the core curriculum ever will.

  4. tseyffert says:

    Lexy, I think this is a wonderful topic because many people don’t even think about it as a problem. It is terrible to see how these words have transformed into synonyms for stupid, dumb, etc. I had a teacher my freshman year of high school who made this really important in his classroom. The first day he called someone out on it, and explained why we shouldn’t use these words when there are so many other words to use to describe things. He said those words really offend someone who actually is gay and is being compared to a tedious homework assignment. People don’t really think about this unless they know someone or have a friend who is mentally retarded or gay. I know plenty of both and I am proud to have them as friends. None of them are comparable to the jackass in the classroom, a bad teacher, a stupid assignment/test, ect. I have taken it upon myself to talk with friends who say “gay” and “retarded” because it is offensive. It’s important to let people know because many don’t even realize what they’re doing. Hopefully it helps them become more aware and stop using such words all together. I know I slip up every once in a while, but I am at least aware of it and feel terrible after I say something is “gay.” I really like your plan to handle this in class. I think all teachers should do this in some way; it is unfortunate that I only had ONE teacher out of many who addressed this issue with me. Luckily it stuck with me and I can pass it on.

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