Some of you may remember my post a few weeks ago about hearing the r-word in school. I teach middle school special education, and it’s such a challenge to think about how little 12-year-olds know about what might offend people who are different from them. We can’t get mad because they honestly don’t know what is (and what is not) appropriate to say.
Today, I overheard some of my typically-developing students in my co-taught class arguing. I came over, ready to redirect them, when they asked, “Ms. Hopkins, is the r-word a bad word?” The answer to this question is not so simple. I decided to answer it with a short lesson about what the r-word really means.
I wrote two words on the board– “retarded” and “retard”– and asked the students to raise their hands if they had ever heard either of those words. I then asked students to raise their hand if they thought it meant something good, and then something bad. Most students thought it was something bad. Next, I showed a video titled, “We’re More Alike Than Different,” a public service announcement by the National Down Syndrome Congress.
We followed the video with a discussion about how we thought the stars of that video would feel if they heard someone say, “That’s so retarded” about something bad. My students were very quick to say that they didn’t think it would be a nice thing to say and they thought it would hurt the feelings of the people in the video. One girl even went on to say that even though things may take some people with disabilities longer to understand something, she thinks we should admire them because they persevere and work harder than people who don’t have disabilities.
After school, two girls approached me in tears. They thanked me for showing that video to them and said it really “opened their eyes” and pushed them to “think about people we don’t always think about.” I was so proud of them for challenging themselves and their peers to have the mature conversation that we had. Today was a reminder that kids can be so profound, challenging their beliefs to become more mindful of others. We just have to assume best intentions and provide them with a safe space to grow into leaders. Today, I am thankful for my students and their potential to make the world more inclusive. What are you thankful for?
–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.