Retards At School

One day last week, Kevin came home from school and relayed a story to me about his math teacher apparently losing his temper with one of his classes (not the class Kevin has with this teacher, but a class a couple of his friends have with him) and saying to his class, “What, are you guys retarded? You’re acting like a bunch of retards!”

Kevin was upset, and upon hearing this, I was upset. A teacher? A high school teacher? Resorting to name-calling? Using a slur? Really?

What to do? There is a part of me – a big part of me – that feels this huge responsibility to Finn in situations like this – situations where I could actually do something. I know I can’t change the world, but when situations like this arise, it feels like a dark and ugly, and yes, cowardly thing to do to just let it go. So I was torn. Kevin and I talked about it, and I asked him if he would be okay with my sending an email to this teacher and to the principal and treating it as an opportunity to educate. Kevin wanted to make sure the story was actually true first. The following day he confirmed the story with other students in that class, and he gave me the okay to send the following email:

Mr. Jafari,

As a parent of one of your students, I am extremely concerned about reports (from multiple sources) that you called one of your classes yesterday collectively “a bunch of retards.” First of all, name-calling by a teacher in any context is inappropriate. Furthermore, “retard” is a hate word. It’s a slur, no different than many other words that we have, as a society, fortunately moved beyond. You may not have considered your audience, and the fact that there actually may be a number of your students who are in some way personally touched by someone with autism, Down syndrome, or another developmental disability, and to have such a connection makes such language especially demeaning and hurtful, especially coming from an authority figure or a role model.

This seems like a good opportunity to educate. I am sending a link to a video of a speech my son, Kevin, gave to his middle school student body and their families two years ago. I hope it will give you pause, and that you will more carefully consider your words in the future.


Lisa Morguess

cc: Cathy Gach, Principal

I sent it on Friday, and by yesterday (Wednesday), I had not heard a word back from either the teacher or the principal. What did I expect? I don’t know . . . some kind of acknowledgment? Yeah.

So last night I resent the email to both of them with this note:

Ms. Gach,

Last Friday, December 9, I sent a letter (copied and pasted below) to Mr. Jafari, with a copy to you, concerning inappropriate language Mr. Jafari apparently directed at one of his classes last week. I have received no response or acknowledgment from either him or you, which greatly concerns me. Perhaps there has been an oversight. In any case, I would like to think that this is something FUHS would take seriously, and would take steps to educate its staff about tolerance and finding more appropriate ways to deal with frustration than resorting to name-calling and slurs.

Lisa Morguess

cc: Mr. Jafari

This morning I got this response from Mr. Jafari:

Dear Ms. Morguess,

Thank you for taking the time to write about something that concerns you. This email acknowledges your email. I did not respond to your earlier email as it did not ask for a response. Please also note that this statement was in jest and I immediately told my students that I am just joking. It was never indented as a slur or a hateful statement. I agree with you that such a statement should never be made in earnest. Since some students or a student did not take the statement as a jest, this calls for more prudence.

Again I would like to thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Best regards,

Mr. Jafari

Oh! So he was joking! Well Jimminy Cricket! That makes all the damn difference, now doesn’t it? He was kidding! I mean, gosh, to say it in earnest would be just wrong. But in jest? Perfectly okay! Just like calling someone – let’s see . . . let’s say, for instance, a classroom full of high school freshman – “a bunch of fags” or “a bunch of spics” would be totally fine as long as it was said in jest, right?!

I about choked when I read that email. It’s one of the two standard excuses: (1) “I was kidding,” and (2) “I didn’t mean it like that.” Damn pussies. Cowboy up and cop to it! I’d have a lot more respect for someone who just said, “You know, I was out of line, and I’m sorry. Won’t happen again.”

Later in the morning my cell phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number, but the location from whence it came told me it might be this very teacher. How did he get my cell phone number? Well, no mind. More importantly, did I want to talk to him? I didn’t have a speech prepared, and I hate being caught unprepared for confrontation like that. But I put on my big girl pants and answered the phone. It was, indeed, the teacher.

He was very nice, though clearly he was doing damage control now. He basically reiterated what he had said in his email, that he was KIDDING! I said to him, “So if I called you a nigger, it would be okay as long as it was in jest?” He gave me a big, hearty laugh and said, “No, no, of course not!” “Why not?” I asked. “Um, well, that’s just wrong,” he said. “Right,” I said.

He told me that he likes to get down on the kids’ level and use their language to connect with them. He really said that! I told him, “You’re not supposed to be one of them, and you’re certainly not supposed to be encouraging them to use derogatory language. You’re supposed to be a role model.” Jesus H. Christ. Why am I having to tell a college-educated freaking teacher this? That he’s supposed to be a role model, not a pubescent, surly teenager?

He apologized and assured me that he would be more conscientious of the language he uses in the future. I guess that’s all I can ask for, right?

Later in the day, the principal called me. I have to say that I am really, really disappointed that she wasn’t right on top of this situation – or at least that she didn’t try to give the appearance of being on top of it. Like Mr. Jafari, she told me that she didn’t respond to my initial email because I didn’t specifically ask for a response. Seriously? I mean, I would think in this type of situation, some sort of response would be a given.

Anyway, she was nice, she said that she had had a talk (today – not until today!) with the teacher, and he understood that what he had done was inappropriate, yada yada yada.


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18 Comments on “Retards At School”

  1. Grace Robbins
    December 16, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    WOW I just read this out loud to my husband and I just can’t believe this crap happens!! I mean that he continued to say the JEST BS!!!!! I just said, “is this the crap I have to deal with one day, I am going to flip my lid!” UGH! Sorry, it isn’t right, and I am glad you said something, we have to….unreal.

  2. Caryl Becker Phillips
    December 16, 2011 at 4:03 am #


  3. mom of special needs son
    December 16, 2011 at 4:53 am #

    WOW–I really felt for you until you wrote Jesus H. Christ. I am so offended by that. I know you are an atheist and don’t believe just as some people don’t believe retard in ‘jest’ it hurtful. I do believe retard is hurtful, especially after reading your blogs for some time now. But what a hypocrite you are not to have some empathy for those who might believe different than you.

    • Lisa
      December 16, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

      You know, I’ve thought about this and thought about it, and the more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. This is not a discussion about religion. Your comment, however, is just one more example of certain Christians trying to impose their beliefs on others. I am not a Christian. Therefore, to expect me to adhere to Christian “rules” is ridiculous. How is taking “the Lord’s” name in vain the same as using an entire class of people as the butt of a joke? How does my saying “Jesus H. Christ” harm you in any way? How does it oppress you or hold you out to be sub-human and therefore not worthy of respect and dignity?

      If my views offend you, you are free to not read my blog.

  4. Alison
    December 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Yowza, that is awful. Do you want us all to send angry emails to the school board in your area? It does sound like you educated the teacher–at least this person knows not to use language like this because it will piss a parent off. The teacher may not understand the foundational point you’re making, but if he at least doesn’t say “retard” anymore, that’s a start.

    And let me wade into the conversation about “Jesus H. Christ” and say that being offended by something someone said is different than the critique of the word “retard.” I don’t know that any population is being harmed by the use of “Jesus H. Christ” as a term of surprise. When “fag” is used as an insult, it adds to the harm that the LGBTQQAI population already experiences. It doesn’t seem to me that “Jesus H. Christ” harms Christians, who seem to be doing just fine in our country. Nobody’s accusing them of being less than fully human (and this is what insults like “fag,” “nigger,” “cunt,” “bitch,” and “retard” are doing).

  5. Alyson
    December 17, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    I am infuriated by both the teacher and principal’s response. If it were me I would keep pushing this but I am not saying I think you necessarily should. The teacher does not get it,not at all.
    As far as the bullshit Jesus H Christ commentator….if you know Lisa is a heathen..I mean atheist then you know there is a chance your precious Christian ears may be offended. If you think her comment is even sort of similar to a teacher using the word “retard” than you definitely don’t understand the hurt it causes. So do us all a favor and go find another blog to critique 🙂

  6. jonashpdx
    December 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    okay, two things: first, love your letter to the teacher and hate the response it got. If something like that ever happens in my kid’s school, I sternly worded letter will be the least of the school’s concerns.

    Two, as to the JHC issue — as a fellow atheist, I don’t have a problem throwing that around, especially if I smack my thumb with a hammer or something (and I honestly didn’t even SEE it the first time I read your post), and I don’t agree that it equates to the use of the word “retard,” but — and here we go with the whole “trying to impose their beliefs on others”, which is what some of us parents are trying to do around the “retard/retarded” issue — for people who DO believe in the great big god, taking the lord’s name in vain is actual blasphemy, and to them — again, not to me in any way — just as bad if not worse than some other name calling.

    That’s not to say in any way that you or anyone else isn’t free to use it/say it (especially on your own damn blog) — just like people use the R word — but to completely dismiss that concern just because you don’t carry that set of beliefs seems to me to not only blunt the force of your own argument but nearly mute it completely. I think if that teacher had said “Jesus H Christ, you kids are horrible”, then he wouldn’t have heard from you, but he certainly would’ve heard from other parents… and, unfortunately, probably been much more contrite when/if he contacted those parents, but that’s an argument for another day.

    (in a similar way, I love, love, love the F word. there’s just nothing like it. But I try to use it judiciously, and sometimes not at all, ’cause I know that not everybody shares my passion for that one).

    Anyway, just my two cents. Keep on keepin’ on, and wishing you the best with the new pregnancy.

    • Lisa
      December 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

      Jonas, I appreciate your argument and I get the point you’re trying to make, but I disagree. I understand that Christians might find my taking the Lord’s name in vain offensive, but they surely also find it offensive that I don’t believe in god in the first place. Yes, I suppose from a Christian’s point of view, saying “Jesus H. Christ” is blasphemy, but isn’t blasphemy a sin against God, not a sin against people? I just do not at all think it’s the same thing – or even similar – to the use of the words “retard,” “retarded,” or “spic,” “nigger,” “fag,” and so forth, for that matter. The latter are used in a way that harms entire classes of people by oppressing, dehumanizing, demeaning, and marginalizing them. How does saying “Jesus H. Christ” accomplish any of those things? And I also don’t see advocating for the elimination of dehumanizing language imposing my beliefs in the same way that people of certain religious faiths might try to impose their beliefs by expecting – demanding – recognition and respect for their beliefs and adherence to the principals and dogma they hold dear. It is FACT that people with developmental disabilities are PEOPLE, that they have feelings, that they have value, that they, as human beings are worthy of dignity and respect. Those things are FACT, not just belief or opinion. That there is a god that must not be screwed with or spoken against – that’s opinion with no FACT to back it up.

      Apples and oranges.

      So much for not making this a discussion about religion!

  7. Michael
    December 17, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    I have to jump into this “retard” vs. “JHC” issue, not just because I love a debate–and I do–but because while the comparison has superficial appeal, I don’t think the comparison is a valid one in this case. It might be if the purpose of not using both of these terms was simply to be polite and not offend anyone by using these words in others’ presence. And it might also be a valid comparison if the purpose of not using the term retard is because it offends my “beliefs,” so I shouldn’t go around offending other people’s beliefs by saying JHC.
    But the comparison you guys are making–jonas and mom of kids with special needs son–is about the same as if someone said “don’t go around killing people because it’s not right, JHC” and you called them hypocritical for imposing their views about killing other people while offending your views on what’s sacred. You see, it’s not, in and of itself, calling others retarded that is offensive. It is what underlies it, which says “you guys are like those dumb fuckers that, because of their immutable characteristics, can’t even tie their own shoes.” You are putting down an entire class of people, dehumanizing them, and perpetuating an attitude that these people are less than worthy, it’s ok to make fun of them, or to use them as some sort of measuring stick by which to insult others, and hey, by the way, it’s not like they can even defend themselves so don’t worry about it because you’ll never get any backlash from them.
    In short, it’s about dignifying others by recognizing them as equal human beings (whether they have different beliefs or not), and TEACHING others to treat others as equal human beings. That is why this teacher failed four-fold,by 1) using it; 2) saying it was a joke; 3) not realizing that the point is not whether it’s a joke or not, because either way you’re using one segment of society as the punch line–joke or no joke; and 4) worst of all, when he said it was a joke, he wasn’t saying “I don’t think any less of retards and neither should you,” rather, the most he could have hoped to be saying is “just kidding, I don’t really think that you, my students, are like a bunch of retards.” Either way, the retards get fucked because he is saying his students ARE like retards, or–if joking, ARE NOT like retards. That’s about the same as saying “hey, I know you guys are not a bunch of retards.”
    That is entirely different from simply saying something offends my beliefs. Saying JHC might offend you, and at worst it might mean that I don’t share, or give a shit about, your beliefs. And you are free to not share or care about mine. But treating other humans as equal is not a belief–although it was certainly an idea that was scoffed at.

  8. mumofone
    December 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    Hi Lisa – actually I kind of noticed the use of JHC as well. Not because its blasphemy. I agree with you and Michael that the issue of JHC vs retard is 2 different things. And I definitely think that you can’t judge someone’s language by “your” rules of what “you” think is acceptable swearing. But I did notice that it stood out. Mainly because normally you write in an educated style of English. You don’t tend to “slang talk” in your blog. You write with appropriate grammar, sentence structure, thematic ideas and so on. And I think this is why your blog entries are often so easily accepted for publication without you or someone else needing to edit them. To see a “swear” word in there, therefore, seems somehow an odd juxtaposition. But here’s what it told me. It told me that this issue was deeply offensive, deeply distressing to you – so much so that your emotions were greater than the ability of the English language to capture how frustrated, angry and sad you were. A judiciously placed “swear” word in that circumstance often does more to jolt a person into the realisation of this than proper adjectives, nouns, verbs etc would. So from that point of view I guess it served a purpose – to highlight just how sad it is that this teacher and others think its acceptable to talk this way, how frustrating it must be for you that they cannot realise how hurtful it is and how angry you must be that anyone would suggest Finn was some kind of joke.
    I hope that even though they have not responded very well to your letter/s that the teacher and principal still walk away and think a little bit about this matter and that may be your words will educate them in some way to the extent that they do not repeat this behaviour again at a future time. Even if you are not aware of it – every bit of education/awareness – may make a difference to someone/sometime. Its hard to change the world – but you can change your little corner of it 🙂
    P.S. This was the first time I had ever seen Kevin’s speech. Wow! Not only was the content brilliant. But his presentation of it as well. He spoke so clearly and his memory was amazing to remember the whole thing and speak it so flawlessly. You must be so proud. Not just because of his courage in standing up for Finn in front of his peers but also because of his abilities as a public speaker. I had no idea he was so good at it. I’ve bookmarked it for future reference 🙂

    • Lisa
      December 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

      I have to disagree with you. I actually use quite a bit of slang and I do swear a lot. I am a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, after all. When I write something to submit for publishing elsewhere, I do tend to clean up the language, but regular blog posts, I try to let my true self shine through, and it’s not always pretty.

      • mumofone
        December 20, 2011 at 2:53 am #

        Ha ha – maybe I just hadn’t noticed the swearing before 🙂
        Love your work Lisa 🙂

  9. Addie
    December 20, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    I wasnt going to get into this, but well, I just cant help myself – ha ha… 🙂

    I think with the JHC thing, it just comes down to respect… there are alot of things that I do at home, that I dont do around other people – simply b/c I know that it would hurt their feelings and I respect them too much to do that… such as using the word “piss” around alot of my more conservative friends, or eating beef when I have my East Indian friends over, etc, etc… I personally dont have a problem with these things and dont think they are wrong, but I know that it would be offensive to them.

    And you know that you have Christian readers so it seems like you would do the same… not that you have to – it is your blog, after all, so you do what you want… but I think more people are less offended by JHC being used by you as a swear word (b/c yes, we all know you are an atheist who curses, no surprises there), but more offended by the lack of respect that you show your Christian readers.

    But then thats just my 2 cents and I could be totally wrong. 🙂

    • Lisa
      December 20, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

      You know, I suppose this would be true if I were writing to please anyone but myself, but I’m not. I write to express myself. Having a blog, and writing about a variety of things from my own heart and my own mind – it’s pretty much a given that from time to time some people who read my blog are going to be offended. I’m not going to clean up my language and write in a way that doesn’t truly reflect ME just to please other people. i don’t put on airs – not in real life, and not in my writing. What you see is what you get. That is not to say that I think it’s okay to go around being purposely mean and hurtful (and I am most certainly NOT a mean, hurtful person), but again, my use of swear words, and my taking YOUR lord’s name in vain – those things don’t cause anyone any harm. You may find it distasteful, but it doesn’t take anything away from you.

      It always amazes me when Christians come to my blog and are offended by my non-Christian attitudes. I am not a Christian! I’ve never made any secret of that! Maybe I need to put a disclaimer in my sidebar. Nobody has to read my blog. I personally avoid blogs that I find distasteful to my own sensitivities.

      Again, I resent that this discussion has dissolved into something it was never intended to be about. I wish those of you who are offended by my use of “JHC” could make a choice to overlook such a relatively small thing and focus on the big picture of what I was trying to convey. Either that, or don’t read my blog.

  10. Ashley Marquez
    December 22, 2011 at 5:27 am #

    Huh. Well, as a fellow heathen, I often say “Jesus Christ” in frustration. While I appreciate that it may offend someone who believes such blasphemy is a sin, it is no different than the use of any swear word. Comparing it to the use of the R word is comparing apples and oranges. Now, if I used the word “christian” in a derogatory manner, as in, “Damn! You guys are acting like a bunch of freaking christians, getting your panties in a wad over JHC,” well, then you’d have a more rational comparison.

    All that aside, the teacher doesn’t get it. Neither does the principal. I am a teacher, and I respond to every single email I get from parents within 24 hours. 1. I don’t get many. 2. It takes all of 30 seconds to respond quickly, even when no response is specifically requested. 3. If it is important enough for a parent to bring to my attention, it is important enough to acknowledge and consider. Openly valuing (not necessarily agreeing with) anything the parent brings to my attention makes the parents and I a team in educating their child.

    I realize I don’t know your family in real life, but your writings about the R word and Kevin’s speech made it into my Texas classroom way back in September. I do not allow hate words in my classroom, and your blog is the biggest reason why. “Gay” and “retard,” among other words, are not allowed to be to describe something dumb, stupid, silly, or anything other than their real, given definitions (should their real definitions ever be appropriate for a class assignment). While your influence failed to get this teacher to think beyond his ignorant, unprofessional joke, I’ve got about 120 8th graders who seemed to get the point.

    • Lisa
      December 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

      Thank you, Ashley. You have no idea how much this means to me and my family, that you’ve brought this discussion into your classroom.

  11. Therese
    December 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    That teacher was way out of line. I cannot believe that the principal didn’t do more or say more. It’s like it’s okay to make fun of our special needs kids but, heavens to murgatroid, if someone uses a racial slur. It’s a double standard and it really burns me up.
    I just came across your blog and have been enjoying your posts. Ihave a teenage son with Autism and two beautiful girlmonths r

  12. Molly
    January 14, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    I was definitely about to type “jesus fucking christ almighty god in heaven” which is generally the lengthiest swear I use when I need to fully express my fucking outrage. And then I saw all the comments. and I got a tad bit nervous. But you stand by it. So I stand by it too.

    THAT IS FUCKING ABSURD. I’m a teacher. I teach 7th and 8th graders. I am the adult. I act like it. They are the students. I am NOT their friend, their peer or their playmate. I am their TEACHER. They KNOW not to drop the r word in my classroom. They’ve even started to correct their peers. I don’t speak down to them. I set my expectations and use the language that TEACHERS use. I would be fired if I said to my students “shut the fuck up!” Ugh. That teacher needs a quick lesson in classroom management.

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