When I led teaching rounds at Children's Hospital of New Jersey, residents avoided certain words in my presence: "diabetic," "sickler," or "asthmatic" would hang in the air as I smoldered.
The residents learned quickly--they had survived medical school. I'm not sure I changed any behaviors, but language does make a difference. I did not want young doctors to see my patients as diabetics--I wanted them to see "a child with diabetes."
It's much harder to treat a child than it is to treat a disease--and I would not allow short cuts on my teams.
How we use language has profound effects on our world view.
Governor Christie signed a bill yesterday outlawing the "R" word in state rules--New Jersey will no longer use "mentally retarded" in its documents.
"Mentally retarded" will be replaced with "intellectual disability" or "developmental disability," neither of which means the same thing as mentally retarded. The law was pushed by many well-intentioned groups, including ARC, which used to stand for the Association for Retarded Citizens, but now stands for, well, "Arc."
Lots of words become poisonous because of our very human ability to dehumanize just about any human who is not "normal." "Dumb" meant
"Moron" used to be a medical term, used by (you cannot make this stuff up) the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-Minded.
"Cretin" comes from the French--it was originally used to remind folks that even developmentally delayed people are people.
[T]he original meaning of cretin was, literally, "Christian"....synonymous with "human being". Due to the lack of iodine in the medieval Alpine diet, certain regions of Switzerland were prone to severe thyroid problems, such as goiter and congenital idiocy. The local priests, moved by compassion for these poor imbeciles, encouraged the populace to treat them kindly. They deserved pity, it was said, because they were, at least, Christians (i.e. "human beings").Melanie & Mike Take Our Word For It
Issue # 27, February 8, 1999
Today many families prefer "autistic" to "mentally retarded." The words (historically, anyway) were not synonymous, and fusing them diminishes the usefulness of either.
The "R" word is verboten in my classroom. The kids learn this in a hurry. I also will not tolerate "gay" or any version of "homosexual" used as a weapon, nor the "B" word. The "C" and "N" words get you bounced.
I have a bit more tolerance for the "A" word if used to describe mulish behavior instead of an orifice, and I barely hear the "F" word unless it's aimed at someone specific.
How we, as teachers, use words in a classroom can make a huge difference in how students see words. We have a wonderful chance to develop some asolescent meta-cognition as we dissect why some words have so much more force than others.
"We’d like New Jersey to get to a place where you can’t use the ‘R’ word with it being inflammatory.’’Elizabeth Shea
Assistant Executive Director for The Arc
Today's Star Ledger
Read that carefully.
Sounds like Ms. Shea wants to demonize the "R" word.
I think she meant to say The Arc would like New Jersey to get to a place where "mentally retarded" is not used as an inflammatory term. Or maybe she meant what she said. Turns out words matter.
I'd be willing to bet a pound of lima beans that "autism" will face the same exorcism rites in a couple of generations, and we'll see the word the way we see "idiot" and "cretin" now.
Or maybe I'm just a
My views on language may be skewed.
Dr. Robert Rapaport, a mensch, and one of the best teachers I ever had,
just about slaughtered me the first time I uttered "diabetic" in his presence.