**Health Update: last week’s MRI results came back, and I am pleased to report that I am “stable.” (well, at least my brain cells are) That basically means that, although the doctor’s can’t really see what’s going on in the scar tissue surrounding my tumor site, they don’t see anything growing in there, and that’s good news in tumor terms.  I’ll take it.  Then we’ll go through this whole mess again in about three months…

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Let’s see, what’s in the news this week?  Basketball?  Yup.  Evil corporate shenanigans?  You know it.  Politicians saying stupid things?  Hmmm…

…Well, what have we here?  Looks like the Golden Child (President Obama) went on the Tonight Show, and said something dumb and offensive.  Now, I’m not going to jump all over someone for a single, dumb-and-offensive, off-handed comment (what with my long history of single, dumb-and-offensive, off-handed comments) – it really bothers me when our society’s media demonizes people for that kind of thing.   I’ll leave that for the politicians.  Rather, I’m actually kind of glad Pres. Obama carelessly and inadvertantly brought to the spotlight an ugly, appauling trend in our culture: the use of special-needs kids & adults, plus the word “retarded,” as a cheap, easy joke. 

Now, you should know my history going in:  I’ve worked in Special Education classrooms off-and-on for the past decade or so, working with children whose needs range from slight accomodations (mild learning disabilities, academic anxieties, behavior issues, etc.) to full-on assistance (Downs Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, the whole gamut). This wasn’t a career path I chose, but in each of these stops along the way, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some pretty awesome kids who were dealt a few bad cards in life.  Sometimes, this was nothing more than a matter of a few minutes of deprived oxygen at birth, other times fetal-alcohol-syndrome types of things, and other times their hardware just didn’t come fully assembled). 

With a few exceptions, of course (usually in the behavior-issues area), these kids have been forced into a situation where they must work twice as hard for every benchmark, every hurdle, every accomplishment that “normal kids” just are able to do automatically, and therefore take for granted.  In recent years, the public schools have made huge strides in showing all children how to accept all members of society into their everyday activities, not just the kids who help them acheive their “goals.”  I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a world where we help bring out the best in every child (which doesn’t mean the smart/athletic ones go to the front, and the “retarded” ones go to some little room in the basement…)

In light of these experiences, it sickens me when I hear people using the words “Retard,” “Retarded,” or references to the Special Olympics as insults.  When I hear youth do it, fine; they might not know better yet (unless they were in my high school classroom; then they’ve heard this lecture several times).  But adults?  Really?  You haven’t learned enough other words yet, so you have to resort to cheap shots? 

Let’s put this in another context:  I used to live in the Philippines, home to the Filipino people, who can, at times, be described as a “quirky” and “unique” people group (many time-honed elements to this often-confusing, often-humorous culture, by the culture’s own admission).  What if, every time I saw someone acting a little nervously, I said, “Stop acting like a Filipino!”  Or “That’s the most Filipino thing I’ve ever heard!”  What would you think if you WERE of Filipino descent, and heard your very identity being used as an insult.

Sometimes, I catch people starting to use the word, then surveying the room to see if anyone there has a direct connection to special-needs kids/adults, then deciding it’s OK because nobody will be offended.  Well, guess what?  You’ve just insulted some of the most kind-hearted, hard-working  people I know, and should prepare for a good healthy lecture (or a kick in the shins, whichever comes first).

In one of those carefully-worded statements to the press you’re just supposed to do whenever you’re mentioned on CNN, the director of the Special Olympics called Obama’s unfortunate insult “a teachable moment.”  I hope so.  If we can model, then teach our kids (like through the “R-Word” campaign)  that humor can NEVER come at the expense of another’s dignity, we’ve done quite a bit. 

Now, Pres. Obama, you need to make this right.  How?  I can think of only one way…

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