The Power Of A Name

, , , , , | Learning | September 26, 2019

(I have two daughters. One has a cognitive disability. The other daughter comes home one day to tell me that her art teacher used an ableist slur to describe another child’s picture. My teeth clench reflexively.)

Me: “Did you say anything?”

Daughter: “Yes! I told her that was an inappropriate word.”

Me: “Did she respond?”

Daughter: “Not really. She just kind of shrugged. I think she called another kid’s work the same thing, but she was across the classroom by then, so I’m not positive.”

Me: “Okay. I’ll handle it.”

(I call the principal the next day and pass on what my daughter told me.)

Principal: “So, the teacher didn’t call your daughter [slur].”

Me: “No.”

Principal: “So, what is the problem?”

Me: “She referred to the art of another student with a derogatory slur that maligns the art, the student, and anyone with the diagnosis.”

Principal: “…”

Me: “It is inappropriate for anyone — especially a teacher — to use the diagnosis of one person to insult another.”

Principal: “But it wasn’t aimed at your daughter or your daughter’s art.”

Me: “It doesn’t matter who or what it was aimed at. It. Was. Inappropriate.” 

Principal: “Okay. I’ll talk to the teacher.”

(I am flabbergasted by his reaction and have no faith that anything will be done, so I send an email explaining the situation to the superintendent. Not a month later, my daughter comes home and tells me that a substitute teacher used the same word in another class.)

Me: “Did you say anything?”

Daughter: “Yes! And so did two other students! [Daughter’s Friend] even explained why it is wrong to use that word, and she just kept saying it! She must have said it four times before class was over. It was like she was taunting us after we spoke up!”

Me: “Okay. I’ll call the principal. Again.”

(I call the next day.)

Principal: “Did the substitute call your daughter that word?”

Me: “You seem to be under the impression that that matters in some way. That it makes a difference. Why is that?”

Principal: “Well, it does matter, doesn’t it?”

Me: No! No! It doesn’t matter at all. If I come into your school and start swearing at my daughter but not at you, are you going to say something? It! Is! Inappropriate! I have explained to you why it is inappropriate. I have explained to the superintendent why it is inappropriate.” 

Principal: “Yes, I am aware that you contacted him last time. Do you plan to contact him again?”

Me: “I’ve already sent that email; before this call I sent an email. Why would I not? You made no indication that you understood last time. It has occurred yet again, suggesting you did nothing. Now, you are proving quite clearly that you still do not understand. Why would I not seek assistance over your head?”

Principal: “What will it take to fix this?”

Me: “You getting a clue, for starters. You letting it sink in that using one person’s diagnosis to insult others suggests that a person with that diagnosis deserves ridicule and to be like them is insulting. Seriously, stop being so [Principal]ish.”

Principal: “What is that supposed to mean?”

Me: “I think the synonym might be ‘thick.’”

Principal: “You are using my name as an insult?”

Me: “Yes.”

Principal: “That’s pretty childish and inappropriate, isn’t it?”

Me: “Yes.”

Principal: “…”

Me: “Is that sinking in? Now, imagine my using your name to insult your secretary in front of the rest of your staff. Imagine me using your name to insult a student in front of their classmates.”

(I was not sure it sunk in, so I had a long talk with the superintendent. A class was arranged for teachers and administrators in the district to learn the importance of appropriate language in the classroom.)

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