Don’t call me a ‘retard’

It’s Time to Stop Using the Word “Retard,” writes Kasey Studdard, a professional football player. Before he had his growth spurt and became a star athlete, he was a “slow, little, fat kid” with learning disabilities. He was “teased, ridiculed, and isolated.” 

His mother, a teacher, helped him keep up in school, despite his information processing problems, he writes.

In college and the pros, he had to work much, much harder than anyone else to learn the plays. “Even after I considered them memorized, I still made sure to go back to my diagrams, to stay late to ask questions of the coaching staff, and to sit for extra video sessions.”

With his wife, Studdard is launching a foundation to “allow children to experience the joys of the outdoors . . . without fear of being singled out on account of being disabled, or slow, or poor … or different.”

Studdard is part of a Special Olympics’ campaign to stop the use of  “the r-word” (retard). It’s often used as an insult.

Here’s an argument in favor of keeping “retarded” as an acceptable term for intellectual disability.

Stacie Lewis, who has a disabled daughter, agrees that the word “retard” isn’t the issue. “Treating the disabled humanely is.”

Why schools have bullies

The Bully Business is booming, writes Cevin Soling in The Atlantic. An entire industry has emerged to advise schools that “bullies feel bad about themselves, have deep insecurities and crave attention,” he writes. 

Bullying is a symptom of frustration, argues Soling. “The law requires children to be in a place many of them do not want to be, where they must associate with people they do not like, and where they must take arbitrary orders in a docile manner.”

Trapped and powerless, some will “bully others to attain some feeling of control,” he writes. More autonomy will lead to less bullying.

I share his doubts about the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs. However, Soling loses me when he compares The Bully Project‘s call for “safe, caring, and respectful schools and communities” to slave owners wanting their slaves to sing and dance.

cover_EPUB copy

Soling is the author of the Student Resistance Handbook, which advises students on legal tactics to “disrupt the operation of school, substantially increase the costs involved in its operation, and make those who work for and support schools as miserable as they make the students who are forced to attend.”

A commenter writes: “About the best I can say about the stupidity and injustices of the public school system is that they prepare you for the stupidity and injustices of life. This is not a sufficient reason to cripple kids’ curiosity, creativity and enthusiasm. Cevin Soling has written a book I wish I had when I was nine. It’s a bit late now. But every kid should have a copy. Handy.”

Honor students say they’re targets

Tracy Peoples

Tracy Peoples

Honor students aren’t safe at their St. Louis high school, charge parents. Fifteen to 20 students attacked a 16-year-old last week at  McKinley Classical Leadership Academy last week.  She was badly beaten.

Tracy Peoples, whose sophomore daughter was on the “attack list,” said she’d given the principal a list of the bullies the morning before the fight. Now students are threatening the daughter and the mother, says Peoples.

Whipping boy

As a 10-year-old at a Swiss boarding school, Allen Kurzweil was tormented by an older, bigger boy and his cronies, he writes in Whipping Boy in the New Yorker. Among other things, he staged whippings of the younger boy to the tune of Jesus Christ Superstar’s 39 Lashes.

Cesar cast himself as the whip master, gave his sidekick the role of centurion, and decreed that I play Jesus Christ. Once my wrists were secured to the metal posts of my bunk, he ordered another roommate, a stockbroker’s son with a Philips cassette player the size of a shoebox, to cue up the music. In the Broadway musical, Jesus is flogged with clockwork precision. But Cesar sometimes lifted his makeshift flail (a belt, if memory serves) only to stop midway through the downstroke. Each time I flinched, Cesar’s face contorted into a grimace of ecstasy. The whip barely made contact, but the point was to humiliate and degrade me.

Years later, Kurzweil’s son asked him how to deal with bullies. He ended up writing a children’s book, Leon and the Spitting Image, in which a boy battles a bully.

Using Google, he discovered Cesar had served time in prison for fraud. When they met, the former bully denied any memory of his actions. But he did apologize.

Boys, girls and ‘genderbread persons’

genderbread

Teachers aren’t supposed to refer to “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen” in Lincoln, Nebraska schools, lest transgender students feel excluded or be bullied, reports Watchdog. Suggested terms include “campers,” “readers” and “purple penguins.” If absolutely necessary, they can say “boys, girls, both or neither.”

Training documents tell teachers how to avoid creating a “gendered space.” Among the 12 steps:

Step 5: “When you find it necessary to reference gender, say ‘boy, girl, both or neither,” the handout said. “When asked why, use this as a teachable moment. Emphasize to students that your classroom recognizes and celebrates the gender diversity of all students.”

Step 8: “Be intolerant of openly hostile attitudes or references towards others… on their statements about gender. Being punitive may stop the behavior, at least in your presence. Being instructive may stop it entirely.”

Step 10: “Avoid using ‘normal’ to define any behaviors.”

Teachers also received a handout on “The Genderbread Person.”

I wonder how many Lincoln teachers will have a transgender student this year. One? Two?

Study: ‘It gets better’ prevents depression

Telling ninth graders that people can change can lower the risk of depression, according to a University of Texas study published in Clinical Psychological Science. 

Lifelong struggles with depression often start with puberty, says David Yeager, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study.

The study asked one group of incoming ninth graders to read a passage describing how individuals’ personalities are subject to change.

The passage emphasized that being bullied is not the result of a fixed, personal deficiency, nor are bullies essentially “bad” people. An article about brain plasticity and endorsements from older students accompanied the passage. After reading the materials, the students were asked to write their own narrative about how personalities can change, to be shared with future ninth-graders.

Students in the control group read a passage that focused on the malleability of a trait not related to personality: athletic ability.

Nine months later, “rates of clinically significant depressive symptoms rose by roughly 39 percent among students in the control group, in line with previous research on depression in adolescence.” However, students who were told personality is malleable showed no increase in depressive symptoms, even if they’d been bullied.

That jibes with research on the academic benefits of having a “growth mindset,” the belief that ability is malleable. And with the “it gets better” campaign aimed at gay teens facing abuse.

Babies teach lessons in empathy

During a Roots of Empathy classroom visit at Maury Elementary School, June Goodman looks at a toy held by fourth-grade students Kanye Cheeks, left, Gabriel Smaw, second from left, and LaTrice Hicks, far right.During a Roots of Empathy classroom visit at Maury Elementary School, June Goodman looks at a toy held by fourth-grade students Kanye Cheeks, left, Gabriel Smaw, second from left, and LaTrice Hicks, far right. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Babies are cute. But can playing with a visiting baby teach empathy? Five Washington D.C. elementary schools are bringing babies into classrooms “to hep students recognize and deal with emotions,” reports the Washington Post.

A Canadian program called Roots of Empathy is being tried  in the U.S. “amid growing concern about classroom bullying and growing conviction that teaching certain character traits — such as persistence, self-control and self-confidence — is just as crucial for students’ futures as teaching academics.”

Roots is built on a simple notion: When babies such as June bring their huge eyes, irrepressible smiles and sometimes unappeasable tears into the classroom, students can’t help but feel for them. The idea is that recognizing and caring about a baby’s emotions can open a gateway for children to learn bigger lessons about taking care of one another, considering others’ feelings, having patience.

A baby, with a parent, visits each classroom once a month.

 A volunteer instructor asks questions related to one of nine themes, from the reasons babies cry to the emotions they feel. The classes — which range from 30 to 50 minutes, depending on the baby’s mood — are mostly a chance for students to watch the baby as it responds to songs and games and to ask questions and share observations about whatever comes to mind.

With discussions before and after the baby’s visit, students spend 20 hours a year on the program. Some D.C. elementary schools don’t offer a full year of science or social studies, the Post notes.

Children do better in school when they learn social-emotional skills, argues Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia. “Children who participate in Roots tend to show declines in aggressive, bullying behaviors and growth in sharing, cooperative and helping ones,” her research shows.

Parents ‘trigger’ change — without a charter

At a Los Angeles school, a parents’ group used the state’s “parent trigger” law to get the changes they wanted, while keeping West Athens Elementary in the school district, writes Natasha Lindstrom for the Hechinger Report.

Los Angeles Unified agreed “to bolster school behavior and safety plans, improve communication between parents and teachers and provide increased professional development and support for teachers,” reports Lindstrom. The district will spend $300,000 to fund a full-time psychologist, a part-time psychiatrist social worker and a full-time attendance officer.

Members of the 24th Street Elementary School parent union meet at a park near their children's Los Angeles school to discuss the next steps to force a major overhaul of their struggling neighborhood school. They're among the first in the nation to use the so-called "parent trigger" law to transform a school. (Photo courtesy Parent Revolution)

Members of the 24th Street Elementary School parent union meet at a park near their children’s Los Angeles school.  (Photo courtesy Parent Revolution)

The law lets a majority of parents at a low-performing school petition for changes “ranging from replacing the principal and half the staff to converting the school into a charter,”  reports Lindstrom.

Gabe Rose, deputy executive director of Parent Revolution, said he views the collaboration as a positive sign that these types of efforts can lead to changes without disrupting and dividing communities. In this case, the parent trigger served as leverage, a negotiating tool to ensure parent concerns were heard, but invoking the actual law didn’t prove necessary, he said.

“Districts have seen the story play out enough times now, I think, that they understand they have to take organized parents seriously because they have real rights and they have real power if they stick together,” Rose said.

Two early trigger campaigns in Adelanto and Compton were fought fiercely. By negotiating with parents, Los Angeles Unified now has avoided a takeover fight at three schools. At 24th Street Elementary, a deal was worked out: The district runs the K-4 grades while a charter operator runs grades 5 to 8.

School safety problems — and a principal who was never available — prompted West Athens parents to form a union, says Winter Hall, whose kindergarten daughter was bullied. Once the instructional director began listening to their concerns, “we opted out of trigger and decided maybe this would work, maybe we could collaborate instead.”

School: It’s OK to tell on bullies

Bullying rules sent home with Zeman fifth-grade students

A school of bullies

special ed student who recorded classmates bullying him in math class was threatened with wiretapping charges, then convicted of disorderly conduct, reports Ben Swann. The student, a sophomore at a Pennsylvania high school, has been diagnosed with a comprehension delay disorder, ADHD and an anxiety disorder.

The student and his mother, Shea Love, testified before the magistrate that the boy has been repeatedly shoved and tripped at school, and that a fellow student had even attempted to burn him with a cigarette lighter. . . . He says the bullying treatment is especially harsh and academically disruptive during his special education math class, in which students with behavioral problems are also placed.

The boy has been moved from the special ed math class. No action was taken against the bullies.

Last Chance High‘s second episode introduces “Spanky” Almond, a pudgy boy with a speech impediment, who’s mocked and bullied by classmates at Chicago’s school for emotionally and behaviorally disordered students. Oh, and dad is a murderer who’s out of prison and might resume his abuse of the family.

Why is a kid this vulnerable in a school packed with abusers?

We see an ineffectual science teacher and a compassionate coach.