Making a Difference, One Person At a Time

This morning Kevin texted me from school saying that he had had a run-in with someone about the use of the word “retarded.”  That someone was Kevin’s favorite teacher.

I don’t know why, but it still blows me away how prevalent the use of such language is even among teachers – educated grown-ups who are supposed to be role models, who it would seem should be sensitive to this kind of thing merely by virtue of being exposed daily to diverse populations.

It’s always disheartening to hear this slur thrown around, but even more so when it comes from the mouth of someone you look up to, so when Kevin told me this, my heart hurt for him because I know how much he admires this particular teacher.

But this incident had a positive outcome, as Kevin told me later when he got home from school.  And in order to share it with all of you, he put it to paper as well:


So, I was in English class today, and we’re reading Macbeth and discussing all this stuff about… uh… whatever it is that Shakespeare meant to be discussed one day.

And we’re interpreting… something. Yeah.

And Mr. *any similarities to persons living or dead is not entirely coincidental* (aka my favorite teacher) calls on So-and-So to interpret the something.

“Oh… I don’t know,” she stammers.

“Come on!” Mr. ———- laughs. “We just discussed this! You’re not retarded!”

(Something along those lines… this conversation has been adapted from my “not-perfect” memory.)

Laughing ensues, some protesting (not at the use of the word, I think, but to the alleged insult.)

Mr. ———- chuckles, and says, “Well I’m not calling her retarded, I said she isn’t.”

More laughing.


“Okay, I’m sorry for alleging to your retardedness.”


I stayed silent.

Well, I would be silent anyway, becauthe I had my retainer in and I thound rethiculouth wearing it.

But I was silent, mulling over what had just been said.

Mr. ———- should know perfectly well what he just said. Our first required novel of the year was Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, a story about two grown men trying to make a living during the Great Depression, one of them developmentally disabled. Furthermore, one of our vocabulary terms way early in the year had been “derogatory,” and he had spent some time going over that particular term, using his own Italian heritage as an example.

So he definitely knew what it meant, and had disregarded it. For what reasons? Just slipped out, maybe? An attempt at humor on a teenage level? (like Mr. Jafari?)

Whatever the reason, this man who I looked up to (and still do, as you’ll see), just lost a lot of respect from a certain student.

I made up my mind right then to say something to him.

The remaining minutes of class flew by, and finally Mr. ———– ended the lesson, leaving us some five minutes of free time before the bell.

I chatted with a friend, and when the bell rang, I stayed behind until everyone had cleared out.

I walked up to him (quite nervously).

Casually, I said, “Hey, Mr. I…” (commonly called by one initial, his last name is a bit lengthy.)

“Yes?” he said in his always-friendly tone. “Something to ask me?”

“No, actually, something to tell you.”

His face held a funny surprised look, and I laughed in spite of myself.

“What is it?” he inquired.

“I hope I’m not going to get in trouble for this…” I murmured, and then spoke up, forcing myself to not beat around the bush.

“The thing is, you’re probably my favorite teacher. But today… I’m sorry to say, I lost a lot of respect for you.”

He gave a rueful smile. “It was me saying ‘retarded’, wasn’t it?”

“Well, yes.” I said.

I don’t remember the exact words from this point, but I told him how as a teacher, as an adult, just as a human being, he should know better. He knew exactly what I meant, and he didn’t deny it or make excuses. I explained how it offended certain people, and as a human being, that type of language should be avoided anyway. I told him that I have a brother with Down syndrome, and he understood. And he told me I definitely wasn’t in trouble. And he then did two things that restored my respect for him.

First, he promised an apology to the entire class tomorrow.

Second, he gave me a genuine “thank-you.”

We smiled at each other.

I stuck out my hand.

He shook it.


That Kevin, he’s quite a kid, isn’t he?

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21 Comments on “Making a Difference, One Person At a Time”

  1. Caryl Becker Phillips
    April 4, 2012 at 4:35 am #

    You have raised an amazing kid. He has such strength of character I find it hard to believe he is only 15. I adore you Kevin. But more than that, I respect you.

  2. Aussie Sarah
    April 4, 2012 at 6:28 am #

    I adore that kid. The story he retold bought tears to my eyes. Bravo Kevin!

  3. christina
    April 4, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    Go Kevin!

  4. Holly F.
    April 4, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    A huge high five and pat on the back for Kevin!! That young man, is COURAGE. Thank you for being brave, kind, decent, and respectful.

    I just hope the teacher really does “get it.” For him to say it so easily makes me think it is a habit that he doesn’t consider hurtful. I am still shocked by some of the people that say it: Speech Therapists that work with specifically with children that may be on the Mental Retardation part of the bell curve. My husband’s federal bosses. College professors. So sad.

  5. TUC
    April 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    So proud of that boy! He has integrity and courage way beyond his teenage years.

  6. Addie
    April 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    From one mother of a kid who has Down Syndrome, thank you, Kevin

  7. bethany @ our perfectly imperfect life
    April 4, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    This is awesome!! *sniff*

  8. ladycoop
    April 4, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Made me tear up. What an awesome son you have there. 🙂

  9. Ellie
    April 4, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Good for him! Wonderful. It can be so nerve-wracking to call someone out — especially a teacher, or boss, or friend — for using that word.

    I recently read a novel in which that word was used and I was so shocked! Now, there were other slurs used in the book, and swearing too. All of it was suited to the characters … but it was still real shocking to see in print. I don’t like it being used in modern novels, when there is no follow-up, as with your brave Kevin confroting his teacher.

  10. Vonda
    April 4, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    I am fricken bawling like an ape right now. Seriously, I love Kevin, LOVE THAT CHILD!!!! How lucky are you guys to have him, how lucky is Finn to have such a wonderful brother. A brother that stood up for him, even though it was probably one of the hardest things he had to do. I love how siblings learn from our children with Ds, learn to stand up for them, learn to NOT go with the flow and just ignore rude comments, learn what’s really important in life. I have 3 of my own. Noah has made us all better people. You go Kevin, I, for one, am SO fricken proud of you!!!

  11. Andrea
    April 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    Wow! Kevin is awesome.

  12. C J Vander Wielen
    April 4, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

    Quite a kid with quite a mom! That literally had me tearing up. The guts that took is amazing. He is a stand up kid.

  13. elizabethbuk
    April 4, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    This made me cry! You must be incredibly proud. Thank you, Kevin! And Lisa, you have raised an incredible young man.

  14. Kim
    April 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    I’m so proud of your son…what an outstanding and bold young man. I pray that my girls will be able to do the same for those in their world who are either insensitive or ignorant (not name calling…just naming the characteristics) of what the use of the word retarded does to/for some people. I’ve heard it from my friends, I’ve heard it from kids, I’ve heard it from educators…and the list goes on. I’m THRILLED that your son took a stand and as a result, I can share this post on my fb page to help those who still don’t “get it” see ONE MORE TIME that they need to be careful with their words. Thank you!!!!

  15. Cheryl Tierney Kinne
    April 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    You have raised a wonderful son, sounds like an amazing guy! That story made me cry. My youngest has DS, and I know it has made his 2 older brothers more understanding. I hope they continue and end up being like Kevin when they’re older.

  16. Jennifer Varanini Sanchez
    April 6, 2012 at 6:09 am #

    I ADORE your son! ADORE! He is AMAZING and I’m not surprised coming from a mom like you 🙂 And…he’s a natural writer…like his mama! I HAVE to share this!

  17. Kelli
    April 6, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    (Tears) I am a teacher and have dealt with a few colleagues with the same issue. How wonderful for kevin to confront his teacher…so proud!

  18. Jody Johnson
    April 6, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    Well said, Kevin. Thank you for speaking up for what you believe is right. You showed respect for your teacher by waiting until the class was gone rather than getting a probably deserved dig in while the rest of the class was watching. You handled the situation like a man should. That tells me you’re going to be a great one. Great job! Great job to you, too, mom! I hope my sons do the same for their sister when we get her home!

  19. beth
    April 7, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    Very bold and brave, indeed. Quite admirable. I could learn a thing or two from your son Kevin to speak up.

  20. twystedyarn
    April 10, 2012 at 12:55 am #

    Way to go, Kevin! As a mom of a child w/ Down syndrome and as a former high school teacher, you have my utmost respect!! Thank you!

  21. Wendy
    April 13, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    I admire your honesty, courage and integrity. You are a shining example of a truly awesome young man who will grow to be a leader!

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