Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Spread The Word To End The Word

The "R-Word Campaign" is the first Wednesday of March.  Special Olympics started the campaign to encourage others to stop using the word(s) "retard(ed)".  The slogan they chose is "Spread The Word To End The Word".  It's the first year we've supported it, as an actual "campaign", at our school.  

I'm not a forceful person by nature.  I'm laid back.  I don't like to be told what to do, and typically I don't like to tell others what to do.  I live by very specific values that all hinge on respect. I hate injustice, disrespect, and drama.  I am far from politically correct.  I think our society takes things a bit too seriously way too often.  I think if a person is prepared to "protest" they better also be prepared to back it up with actions.   As the old cliche' goes: actions speak louder than words.  If you're going to run your mouth, positive or negative, back it up with some active follow through or don't speak at all.  When respect is due and it's not given, that's where I become forceful and active.  In most cases respect is earned, in this case respect must be taught and demanded.  I will always stand up for those that may not be able to do so themselves.

My life as an advocate for those with special needs is a constant state of actions over words.  I was hesitant to chime in on this campaign at first.  The more I thought about it, the more it made sense for a dude like me to put it into motion in my corner of the world.  Out here, where we're at, we've been teaching and living this for years.

My idea with this was to keep it as natural as possible.  I'm not a cheerleader, so holding an assembly was out of the question.  Our school has worked diligently over the past 4 years to create an authentic, inclusive environment where respect is lived out every day.  We've been told by outsiders that you can feel that as soon as you step foot on our school campus.  

So with this R-Word campaign, all I did was put this banner up outside of my class and tack up the posters around the school.  Within a half hour, students started coming around to sign.  Nothing forced, or contrived.

I was stoked to watch this unfold.  I really had no clue how this was going to play out.  For all of you educators, this banner became my "data" for measuring authentic and/or aesthetic change.  Most of the students in general education are very familiar with our special education classrooms and their peers with special needs.  For the four years that I have been teaching here I have been bringing general ed classes into my room for inclusive learning, my son with Down syndrome has been in the general ed setting, some of my students are pushed out for parts of the day, and a few have been included indefinitely with only resource support.  Additionally, we have a wonderful staff that has been overwhelmingly open and patient with all of us, including me!  We have an awesome PE teacher that has taken on an anti-bully campaign for a few years as well.  So this was really nothing new for our school.  This is authentic change.  The result of true inclusion practiced consistently over several years.

The first group of students to sign were third graders.  This is important to note because those third graders were kindergarteners when I started teaching.  The same kinders that I brought into my class every week to learn right alongside my students with special needs.  Ironic?  Nope.  When kids learn and grow in that type of environment, they learn what real respect is.  They learn how to give proper respect, expect it, and stand up for it.

Of course some kids just signed because their friends did.  However, the original signatures are authentic, signed with a genuine heart.  Why? How? Because our school has created real inclusive opportunities for all students to learn, play, and grow together.  We didn't have to bribe kids to sign, they wanted to.

Authentic inclusion comes about when we move past the aesthetic of just having our students sit next to each other at an assembly.  Authentic change happens when all students are learning with each other.  Active, inclusive education is the key. How that translates is specific to your environment.  We have all the right ingredients at our school!  I am forever grateful to work with the staff and teach/learn with the students here. 

Some closing thoughts for the naysayers about this.  It's not really about what "retard(ed)" means, it's how it's used. The appropriate term is of no consequence here, because that's not the point.  The point is: TREAT OTHERS LIKE YOU WANT TO BE TREATED.  

For those of you wondering what to say in place of "retard(ed)", I will not offer suggestions because it's not that difficult.  However, in place of the word as a diagnosis in the education and medical field, INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY (ID) is the appropriate term.

Let's be honest here though, I'm not necessarily offended if someone says "mental retardation" as a diagnosis.  I get it.  When using it in regards to something being "ridiculous", just be mindful of your words and who you are around.  Don't let your tongue get your teeth knocked out.

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