After over a decade of teaching music, with all of the thousands of kids I've worked with, it's easy to forget. There are names and faces that stick out--some bring fond memories, others, not-so-much. Josh, in particular, stands out, in the best possible way.
Josh was a sixth grade student who attended the school where I completed my student teaching assignment. He attended the Special Day Classes for students who are developmentally disabled. The crux of his school days involved learning basic skills to live in the world, but Josh had expressed an interest in music, so the special ed teacher somewhat hesitantly approached my master teacher, Mike, and asked if he'd mind letting Josh join the band. Mike answered with an emphatic, "I'd love to have him."
So Josh joined the band. It was agreed that percussion would best suit him, and perhaps even help his motor skills. He fell in love with the maracas, so the maracas became his instrument--even if a song didn't call for them.
In my student teaching, I quickly became used to the daily routine, and found myself looking forward to the arrival of Josh and his aide in the music room. Every day, he was eager and happy, and started off by coming up to say hello to Mike and I. Then he'd hustle back to the percussion section and find his maracas in their designated spot in the percussion cabinet. He was the most enthusiastic and attentive musician in the room--a class of about 45 unruly 6th graders. Those children kept me on my toes for a whole semester, but even they were gentle and understanding with their classmate.
By all definitions, Josh was "mentally retarded." The word retarded originates from the Latin retardare and literally means, "slow." There is a musical (Italian) term, ritardando, which means to slow down, and is often abbreviated to rit or ritard in music. But Josh is not a musical term, or a dead language. He is a living, breathing human being and while his mind did not work in the same ways yours or mine do, he was, nevertheless, one of the most delightful and rewarding students I have ever worked with.
So I suppose it's understandable that I get up in arms when I hear "retarded" used as an insult. It actually breaks my heart, a little bit, that our language has bastardized so much that we can't come up with a more clever insult. It brings to mind this image, which I've seen on Facebook and Twitter many times:
All of this comes up on the LPB tonight because I saw, once again, the term "Libtard" used on Facebook today. I have a friend I like very much who uses it often, and I've had to block most of what she posts to avoid causing a friendship-killing scene. Today, however, it was a friend of a friend, someone I do not know, who was throwing the offending word around with all of the usual references to anyone who doesn't agree with him being gun-hating, socialist, abortion-loving, unreasonable, and, well, mentally retarded.
Well done, dude. Let's tell these people, who are developmentally disabled, who don't quite function in the way you and are blessed to function, that they are lesser, worth mocking, because that is what you are doing when you tell someone their view--that is, not yours--is "retarded."
I take it incredibly personally--not because I give two shits what an unreasonable stranger on the Internet thinks of my political leanings, but because I have known children whose brains are the very definition of the word "retarded." Every single one of them has challenged me, has inspired me, and has made me a better, more empathetic person for having known them. When you use "retarded" or "Libtard" as an insult, you are not hurting me. You are implying that these children, with their happy smiles and their enthusiasm, their love of music and their desire to simply do one "normal" thing in their school day are somehow less, are somehow deserving of your mocking attitude.
News flash: it's not your political views that make you a jerk. It's how you treat other people. Learn some new words.