Will’s post regarding the Hellspawn reminded me of something I haven’t thought of a lot in recent memory, save for an incident out a couple weeks ago when I was verbally savaged for using the “r-word” (for the uninitiated, there is a major movement to treat the word “retard” the same as the N-word; since the site speaks for itself, I offer a balancing opinion from the Washington post).

My precise wording: “in American classrooms, class proceeds at the pace of the slowest retard.” The person in the discussion who took offense, took great offense because she has a brother who is “developmentally challenged” and she really, really, really doesn’t like the use of that word.

In the larger scope, however, I refer back to my 3rd grade English class. In my grade school, we had a couple of “developmentally challenged” individuals. Not enough to constitute their own classroom, as Will had in his day minding the Hellspawn; instead, there was a special-ed teacher on staff for them who had them most of the day. To “innovate” around the difficulties of minding them (she couldn’t eat during normal lunch periods, instead having to mind her charges at the “special table” in the cafeteria/gym), the school decided to kill three birds with one stone. Bird #1 was that she needed a special lunch period. Bird #2 was that when she was eating, someone else had to “mind the hellspawn.” Bird #3 was that, due to state regulations, each of them had to spend “one class period with age-appropriate peers for socialization.”

In other words, the class period right after lunch was when her charges were farmed out to the other teachers of the school, dropped into their classes for “socialization” while the special ed teacher ate her lunch.

My 3rd grade year, we got “Ricky.” Ricky was one of the types who if you put his problems into a neat dossier, would doubtless generate sympathy. His parents were poor. Kenny McCormick-level poor. He was one of several (as in, “poor people who don’t get the idea of birth control or are religiously opposed to it” numerous) children, at least half of which were also “developmentally challenged.” He had physical deformities in addition to mental, deformities which if you got him to “smile for the camera” would, again, lead towards a sympathy reaction. His level of developmental problems meant that most of the day, he was barely doing preschool-level tasks instead of 3rd-grade tasks. He really, really liked the stuffed animals his parents tended to give him (rather than giving him breakable toys or anything that could be used as a weapon). It is not impossible, and indeed quite likely, that his health and development problems and those of his siblings were related to or exacerbated by the fact that his mother was a chain-smoker and alcoholic who had neither refrained from, nor limited, her usage of either during any of her pregnancies.

What the dossier would leave out is the following: he fit the definition of “hellspawn” almost perfectly. He was verbal without being understandable, communicating in a combination of grunts, groans, moans, and screams. He had severe impulse control issues, in that he had no impulse control at all. He would, when feeling balked or ignored, throw temper tantrums that involved physical violence with the strength of body that somehow seems to be a trademark of certain “developmentally challenged” individuals who never, ever, ever hold back from maximum. He had a predilection for throwing things – HARD. The stuffed animals didn’t really hurt. The hardcover books he liked to throw more, did. He was not above biting, and did in fact bite our teacher on at least two occasions hard enough to draw blood. He was such a disruption that for purposes of our English class over the course of that year, we probably got through 20% of what we were supposed to get through, and that only because after the second biting incident, the school actually did manage to remove him from the socialization aspect and found a teacher (the gym teacher, it turned out) who they could assign to watching him 1-on-1 during the time the special ed teacher was getting her lunch. His “socialization time” the remainder of the year was limited to the gym teacher keeping a 1-on-1 eye on him during recess periods, where he generally ran in circles off to one side while everyone else was on the playground equipment.

Admittedly, Ricky is an extreme case. However, when confronted with people who in the educational system insist that “mixing classes” is the “fair way” to get scores up and insist that the slower kids will “learn from the advanced kids”, I cannot help but remember the year my English class was saddled with Ricky, and the fact that even with lesser students in the class who are not such extreme cases, class must necessarily move at the “pace of the slowest retard” and one sufficiently disruptive student can ruin the school year for up to 29 other kids.

Category: Elsewhere, School

About the Author

11 Responses to The Slowest R-Word

  1. trumwill says:

    I have a post coming up on my impressions regarding mainstreaming and special ed. I’ll have to add another one on use of the R-word.

  2. Peter says:

    Decades ago mentally retarded people were classified as idiots, imbeciles or morons. Using one of those words as an insult (“You moron!”) is no longer considered derogatory to the mentally retarded because the words haven’t been used in their literal (i.e. as a description of retardation) sense in many years.

    Because the medical and educational professions no longer use the terms retard/retarded, it might well be that over time “retard” can be used as a general insult without any derogatory associations.

  3. Mike Hunt says:

    I was verbally savaged for using the “r-word”

    I use both the R and N words in general conversation among friends, but only in cases where I know I won’t be challenged on it. Yes, this makes me a coward.

    To people who don’t like the use of either word, remember that words evolved for specific reason. There are times in conversation, or when telling a joke, that the R word or the N word are entirely appropriate.

    Of course both phrases are BS, because when someone says them, you are conveying the words “retard” and “nigger”.

  4. Brandon Berg says:

    The bottom line, I think, is that any word which refers to a class of people generally looked down on is going to acquire negative connotations. Consider how “special,” which started out as a euphemism for mentally retarded children, morphed into an insult as soon as kids caught on. Seems pretty pointless to me to try to discourage use of a particular word when it’s only a matter of time before the current euphemism becomes the next slur.

  5. Sheila Tone says:

    I think “retarded” is OK, but turning it into a noun, “ree-tard,” is clearly pejorative.

  6. trumwill says:

    Brandon put succinctly what I was (and may still) write in a post. The issue is not the specific word to describe the specific trait(s), but the fact that the same word will be used derogatorally to describe people outside that group. The same applies to many gay slurs.

    The only way to avoid it, really, is to make the term so clunky that it won’t be convenient to use the other way. Even then, the clunky word “homosexual” will be shortened to “homo” and the like, or it will be disregarded by people referring to the actual group to whom it has been assigned.

  7. trumwill says:

    Then again, if you have a homo/homosexual distinction, that in itself can be worthwhile. You still run into non-use where use is applicable, though. Most people say gay or lesbian. The same way people resist the term “mentally handicapped” in favor of retarded or special.

    (no real excuse for “nigger”, though. There are multiple acceptable substitutes.)

  8. Kirk says:

    The word “retard” is used by auto mechanics in reference to ignition timing. Also, the terms “master” and “slave” are used when discussing hydraulic clutches. I wonder if someone in the auto industry is trying to come up with less-offensive terms.

    I’m waiting for someone to get offended by the terms “male” and “female” when discussing connectors. You have to figure that somewhere, at some time, some child learned about sex by plugging in a set of headphones.

  9. web says:

    “Master” and “Slave” are also commonly used in electronics components (most notably with the old IDE hard drive setups, but very common in factory units where you have a “Master Control” running any number of units downstream).

    “Retard” is also a musical term, where it means, quite simply, to slow down the tempo of the music.

    As for the rest, I’m reminded of the South Park episode where Chef explains the whole point of constantly changing slang. It does seem that a lot of the “eliminate that naughty/derogatory word” campaigns operate on a similar premise, trying to “get out ahead” of changing word usage to create, however temporarily, a “safe word” by which to refer to some group of people.

    And there was a time when “gay” simply meant happy. Either that, or the Flintstones were doing a lot of things we weren’t aware of!

  10. Brandon Berg says:

    I’m pretty sure I remember a news story from several years ago about somebody complaining about the master/slave terminology…ah, here it is.

    That’s ritard, short for ritardando. Though I believe it’s usually pronounced slightly differently (short “i”, accent on second syllable) in English.

  11. SFG says:

    It’s a lot like life….

    But seriously, I’ve heard this called the ‘euphemism treadmill’…one term becomes an insult, so they invent a new neutral term, which then becomes an insult, so another term gets invented, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.