“Sticks and stones can break my bones and words can really hurt me!” That's my update on the old schoolyard saying after I received an email message from the Facebook cause, Special Olympics, asking me to help them eradicate the casual use of the word “retard.” I abolished that word from my vocabulary a long time ago and demand the same from my students. It is considered a cuss word in my class and has no place there. A profanity report will be required from the student using it just as easily as someone saying something truly considered profane. The same goes for the word "gay."
When "gay" is used in the schoolyard, it means lame, but that doesn’t stop the hurt from a young man who is not homosexual or the middle school student who is gay, but isn’t ready to announce it to the world.
When I was chairperson of a middle school site committee, we made sure that we had a school counselor who students could go to when they were called, “gay,” and felt angry or hurt. A couple of years or so later, when I taught at a large, northeast Denver high school, my class room became a safe haven for gay and lesbian students. These students knew they could come to me for help and sanctuary.
At my current high school, an alternative high school charter, we have a prevalence of gay and lesbian students, but our students treat each other with respect, so all have a positive school experience. That is part of our school culture.
I don’t think any of us truly realize how words can really sting. I have to battle with myself not to quip because it is easy for me to put hecklers down. In a previous life, I performed stand-up comedy. Actually, it was sit-down comedy since I used a stool. I digress. I do hold my tongue, and many times I tell my students I could’ve said something, but it might have come out hurtful so I won’t---this time! My students tell me a keep it real.
Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an M. A. in school leadership and is a former candidate for the Colorado State Board of Education.