Spread the word to end the word

Liz Liska , Editor in Chief

It happens in passing, a word slipped out in a conversation, or a simple hand motion. Most people laugh it off, or don’t realize its full implications. But the fact of the matter is that our words and actions mean more than we like to believe. The use of the word “retarded” in passing language is no longer acceptable.

More and more, the use of the “R”-word has come to be customary within our school and community. Most of the time, people don’t react to the comment. It has become an acceptable, encouraged, and even humorous thing to say. The ostracism and bullying of a student who has no control over their situation is flat out wrong.

Spread the Word to End the Word is a campaign ran by Lindsay Dake, a teacher here at New Berlin West, and is facilitated by students within the school. The main point of it is to discourage the use of the word and encourage an involvement within the community. It emphasizes the importance of understanding what challenges peers might face and recognizing that they aren’t so different.

“I became truly invested in the R-word campaign when I kept hearing students using it,” said Dake. “It is an offensive term used incorrectly.”

Speaking up is a major part of this campaign. Not saying anything is only stimulating the use of the word and its corresponding seclusion that happens between the students.

Roxanne Panas, a sophomore here at New Berlin, becomes upset when she hears the word.

“It makes me feel like if they can’t expand their vocabulary big enough then they aren’t the best person to be talking to,” said Panas.

Special Education teacherAmanda Kohnke stated, “I get very defensive. I always say something.”

It’s time for the school to stand up and say something too. It is no longer appropriate to allow people to use this term, mock, or leave out students that are different from ourselves. We need to take responsibility for our words and actions.

“Just don’t say it,” said Kohnke. “It’s not that hard to not say a word.”

Ignorance is Not Bliss

When people see a person who has a disability, they instantly assume that the person is less than them, that they are less capable. The truth is, a disability does not mean that they are less able. All it means is that it’s more of a challenge. It might take longer. It may take a few tries. It doesn’t mean that they cannot be at the same capacity as people without a handicap.

Jacob Barnett is a teen from Indiana. When he was two years old, he was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism and had problems with cognitive abilities, including speech. However, his mom never gave up on him, and did her best to nurture his learning. At the age of 11, Barnett was college ready. He has an I.Q. of 170, higher than that of Albert Einstein, and is currently working on his own theory of relativity while he studies at Purdue with a major in condensed matter physics.

People like Barnett prove that a disability simply hinders the ability, not the capability.

Ending the Word Doesn’t End the Problem

Ostracism is every bit as demeaning as derogative terms and actions. Of course, the main goal is to get people to stop using the “R”-word. Another large problem that is also evident however, is the exclusion that goes along with it. If we want the problem to truly go away, our solution has to go much deeper than words. Inclusion is a big part of bringing the community together.

“The biggest thing that can be done to make them feel welcome is including them,” Dake said.
It doesn’t take much to make someone feel like they are accepted as a student in the classroom. Saying hello, striking up a conversation; these are all things that we do to communicate with other peers. Why not with our students who have special needs?

Many will say that the mannerisms associated with the students’ disabilities are frustrating or scary.
Amanda Kohnke, a teacher within our Foundations program, stated, “Everyone is different in some sort of way and everyone is the same.”

There are a lot of misconceptions about these students. The most important thing to understand is that these individuals simply don’t process information the way everyone else does. It takes a little longer to learn something. They still have many of the same interests. They like and dislike many of the same things that we do. Our similarities are much greater than our differences.

“It’s a human need to belong,” said psychology teacher Dan Counsell. “When that need is not fulfilled, it can be detrimental to their physical and psychological health.”

Many communities have included a combined league for various sports where the students can compete together. The idea is to give students who generally don’t hang out together a chance to be able to play a game such as basketball or volleyball. So far, they have seen success.

Success Through Sports

Combined with involvement within the Special Olympics, many students have also found a home within the boys’ basketball program at West. Currently, Jackson Mantel, Gabe Peil, and Cameron and Jordan Lilly are basketball managers.

The team has accepted the boys well, Kohnke says. “They say hi to them in the hallway and it makes them so much happier and makes them feel welcome in the school.”

The boys work through practice and games to film, keep time, and help things run smoothly.
Head coach Chris Foley said the boys are, “very excited to help and take pride in the work they are asked to do.”
They show their support for the team by wearing spirit wear and cheering them on. According to Kohnke, the boys enjoy their job.

“It has been a great experience for everyone involved,” said Foley.

In the Mix and on the Air

Many TV and publications have encouraged the use of the word. Actors, writers, and even presidents have heightened the issue.

Fox News was forced to stop using the word after a reporter, Rahm Emanuel, stated that the problem at hand was “f—–g retarded.”

He met with the Special Olympics director at the White House in an attempt to quell the situation. After publicly apologizing, the matter fell away. The statement caused varying effects among the people.

Sarah Palin called for his immediate dismissal. Palin, whose youngest child has Down syndrome, stated that it was “heartbreaking” that more wasn’t done.

On the other end of the spectrum, fellow reporter Bernard Goldberg stated in an interview with Fox News that “He’s not a bigot for using it, and this political correctness is totally out of hand.”

The dismissal of the issue is a common theme within society. Most people push the problem to the side, either because they do not believe that it is a problem or don’t want to stir up controversy. When it comes to the alienation of an entire group of people, silence is not the answer. This is not a simple “political correction” ploy. This is a serious problem that hurts and offends many. The purpose of the campaign is not to find a politically correct way to say what you want to say, but instead it is to stop alienating people. It represents the grueling issue of ostracism within the community as a whole.

It is important to remember that just because someone is on TV or in the press, it doesn’t make them perfect. If a celebrity says something that isn’t acceptable, it should not be automatically accepted or condoned. It is imperative that we don’t blindly go with what the trend on the red carpet is.  Kristen Stewart (Nov 1, 2008), US President Barack Obama (Mar 20, 2009), Jennifer Aniston (Aug 19, 2010), Lady Gaga (Apr 20, 2011), LeBron James (May 7, 2011), and Tracy Morgan (Jun 27, 2011) have all been known to say ‘retarded’ or ‘special’. Only some of whom have apologized for doing such.

What Can You Do?

Of course, the simple answer to this is to stop using the R-word. It also helps to include those around you. Whether it is a hello in the hallway or a conversation at lunch, be friendly.

“Treat them like you do to any other peer,” Kohnke says. “Become friends with them, get to know them.”
Furthermore, the Foundations program is open to anyone. Any student of New Berlin West can feel free to stop in, ask questions, and make friends with the students.

“You learn a lot by being in here.” Said Betsy Weins, a Special Education teacher.

The teachers are more than willing to help students who come into the classroom to socialize and learn with them. Various students currently work in Foundations during lunch and study hall.

“Getting to know the kids is an amazing experience.” Said student aid Megan Rentmaster. “I’ve gotten to know some pretty fabulous people.”

As you pass by room 115, feel free to pop in and say hello.

As Special Education teacher Melissa Pietrzak stated, “Our door is always open if you want to know more.”