Dear Friends -
How many times a day do you hear the word "retard" being casually thrown around? Do you use it yourself? Do your kids use the word?
As most of you know, our 7-month old son, Finnian, has Down syndrome . . . so the word "retard" has taken on new meaning for our family. Kevin, our 12-year-old, seems especially aware of and affected by it. He has made it his mission, in fact, to raise awareness at his school (he is a middle school student at Beechwood). Still, it seems that not a day goes by that he doesn't come home from school and report that the word was "in his face" so to speak. Nice kids from nice families are using this
word - and not in its clinical sense, but in a derogatory manner. Joey, our 6-year-old is now being exposed to this ugly word. It hurts our entire family, as well as all families of children with special needs.
"Retard" is a hate word. It's a descriminatory slur, just like the "N" word. It's hurtful to people with disabilities, as well as the people who love them. I know it's probably a bit odd that I'm contacting you with this, but I'd like to request that you educate your kids about this.
Let's work to ban the "R" word. We're all human beings, deserving of respect and dignity. Together, we can make this a world of tolerance and acceptance.
It's true that Kevin has made it his job to try to educate kids at school whenever he hears the word. And it's also true that still, not a day goes by that he doesn't hear the word being thrown around. Lately he almost seems defeated by it - it takes a lot of guts for a 12-year-old, one who wants to fit in, to speak out about something the other kids may laugh at. And a lot of them do. There is one kid in one of Kevin's classes who has realized that this is a hot-button issue with Kevin, and so he has taken to chanting "Retard . . . retard . . . retard" under his breath whenever Kevin is around.
What sort of put me over the edge this morning and prompted me to draft and send out that email was Kevin telling me that a very good friend of his uses the word - a kid I never would have believed would use language like that. So I've just started wondering: do these kids' parents know they use words like this? Do they tolerate it? Are these kids learning by example from the adults in their lives, or by example on the schoolyard?
Some of the people who got my email today probably think I'm a loon. I don't care. I've gotten some really positive responses - one even from Joey's teacher who promised to have a discussion with the class today about this topic - and she did, as reported by Joey. I figure that it might spark some dinner table discussions tonight. And that's a good thing.