Sticks and Stones… Yeah, Right

It happened again.

I’m sure the person responsible for it didn’t mean to do it.

Why, I’m sure she didn’t even give it a second thought.

That is the crux of the problem.

We don’t give the words we use a second thought, at least not when we say them out loud.

When we write we choose our words carefully, aiming to get just the perfect nuance, the right shade of meaning.

When we write we recognize the power of words, how choosing one instead of another shifts meaning in subtle or overt ways. We use dictionaries and thesauri in tandem to aid us in our search for precision in language.

I do, and I am confident many other writers, cognizant of the complexity of our mutt-like English language, do as well.

While Professor Henry Higgins bemoans that “One common language I’m afraid we’ll never get,” the rest of us are free to revel in the diversity of words that Dutch, French, Turkish, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Saxon, German, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Italian (itself a motley collection of distinct dialects), and more have contributed to what we commonly call English.

It is that very diversity that allows linguistic precision, and it is that capability for precision that makes it so very distressing when people who should know better use words carelessly.

It is one thing to use an imprecise word when speaking, but quite a different thing when one is writing and, perhaps, has the time to choose words more carefully then read and revise by picking a different word or phrase to better convey intended meaning.

Still, despite the opportunity to do better, I’m sure the person responsible for it didn’t mean to do it.

Perhaps I should say persons because the offending term appeared in a magazine article and this magazine has an editor who might have caught the offending term and suggested an alternative.

That this did not occur leaves me to presume dereliction of duty or, worse, intent.

I will not embarrass the writer, editor or magazine by identifying them, partially because that is not how I operate, but also because the offensive phrase is so commonly used.

Here’s what I’m going on about; just a few simple words:

“Regular education,” or in this specific instance, “regular classroom environment.”

I am known in many corners of the online world as Spedteacher. It’s a handle that takes SpEd, a common abbreviation of ‘special education’ and adds it to my job title.

Perhaps I should call myself ‘Irreguteacher ‘ instead.

The opposite of ‘regular education’ is irregular education. A classroom environment other than a regular one is an irregular one.

All people are different. We all come with a broad selection of abilities and things we’re not so good at doing. How can it be that only a very small group of that overwhelming selection of abilities is labeled ‘regular’ and the rest are implied to be irregular?

In the text for one of the many inclusion-themed t-shirts available from his Nth Degree Catalog (The Home of Wheelchair Boy Jeans) Dan Wilkins explains the problem with the phrase ‘regular education’ much better than I can:

“One of the problems I have with the Special” and “Regular” education dichotomy is that its very existence forces us to label every kid just so we know which box to put him/her in. It gets worse. Then we take all the kids in one of the boxes and we put each of them in their own box and slap another label on it…. perhaps two…or ten. After a while we forget about the kid in each box and just see the box (and all its labels). It gets worse. Inside the box, the kid, misjudges the edge of the box for the horizon and comes to believe ‘that’s all there is…’ In the eyes of everyone, including the child, the kid and the box become one. So much for dreams…the chase is over before it begins.”

There it is.

In general, it is better to call the classrooms most students are in “general education.”

Calling them anything else should be irregular.

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9 Responses to Sticks and Stones… Yeah, Right

  1. If you are a special education teacher, does that make me an ordinary education teacher? Not much of a ring to it. Do words mean things? You and I both know that they do. Their purpose is to communicate and misunderstandings happen because each word and in combination of words mean different things to each person based on that persons history. Are you trying to understand the meaning the author is trying to make, or are you replacing their meaning for your own? Of course you are sensitive to specific words and phrases because of your history and I am sure the author would prefer that the message he was trying to make not be missed because one word or phrase.

    I guess the question I mean to ask is How much responsibility do you have to try to find the meaning of the words despite your history?

    I do enjoy reading your posts, they make me think. Honestly that is the best compliment I can give.

    • Deven Black says:

      The purpose of writing or speaking is to communicate meaning to someone else. Poets and fiction writers rely on the reader as a partner in the creation of meaning and recognize that each reader brings something unique to the transaction and, as a result, the ‘meaning’ of a piece of writing exists in the space between writer and reader. Expository writing should be more explicit, have a specific intended audience, and rely less on the reader for meaning creation. The expository writer needs to consider the characteristics of the audience and its potential for making meanings other than the one intended by the author. None of us are perfect in this effort, but the movement away from the term ‘regular education’ has been going on for some time and an author in the education field should be aware of that.

  2. Lauren says:

    This post brings to mind my chronic issue with the words “normal” and “appropriate.” Normal is really a technical term that means “statistically average.” Appropriate has a strong positive connotation, as in “that’s an acceptable thing to do in these circumstances.”

    Most parents would not want to think of their children as “average,” and they get all riled up when teachers tell them that their children’s misbehavior is “age-appropriate.” I’ve been trying to get my graduate students to use the word “typical” when they describe children’s behaviors or academic performance. To me, it feels like a less-loaded word.

    Thanks for the reminder about using the term “general” education.

    • Deven Black says:

      Typical also carries baggage. Consider the phrase, ‘Oh, that’s typical for a boy.’ It could mean that there is nothing to be concerned about because most if not all boys are like that, or is could mean that one should be very concerned because most boys are like that. When spoken to an individual the context and inflection would help clarify which meaning is intended; something that is more difficult to discern when the phrase is written.

      What I am seeking is for writers to be conscious of how their writing might be differently understood and to try to eliminate opportunities for misunderstanding to occur.

  3. I will always remember a friend who said, “Always consider the person (child) first.” She was very frustrated with people talking about a “BD child,” instead of a child with behavioral disabilities. When we focus on the labels first, we forget about the child.

    I don’t think this thinking gets us caught up in politically correct euphemisms, but rather helps us to remember that we teach human beings, not labels.

    Completely agree with you, Deven, about the ‘normal’ moniker for the general education classroom. Besides, I would never want to teach a normal class. I want all my classes to be extraordinary! ;-)

    BTW, my feathers get ruffled when my class is constantly referred to as a “special,” and I’m called a specialist. Funny, but my teaching certificate says I’m a teacher, not a specialist. But I guess that’s my own blog post, eh?

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!

    • Deven Black says:

      Good to hear from you, Michelle. My principal is in the process of changing me from a specialist (or specificist?) to a generalist. Not sure how I feel about that beyond the linguistic difficulties it engenders. Can’t wait to read your blog post!

  4. Michael J says:

    Keep in mind that the American irregulars between the Brits. Blogs are beating out MSM in getting it right. And the informal economy (e.g. The Wire and the Rothschilds back in the day ) and kids in garages take down big corporations. Disruptive innovation always comes from the irregulars.

    Good post. “Is it me or is it them?” After HealthCare it’s finally become pretty clear, “it’s them.”

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