Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Your vocabulary word for the day is "Mongoloid"

Alright, folks, tell me if I'm being oversensitive here. My daughter's reading a book in her high school resource-room class about children with disabilities who go to a mainstream camp and have some struggles fitting in there. So yesterday, she brings home her first list of vocabulary words for the book, and one of the words is "Mongoloid." This is a word she's being asked to memorize the definition of, and use in a sentence. Now, that word hits me as offensive, and I look it up in the dictionary, and the dictionary says it's offensive when used to describe a person with Down syndrome, which is the definition she's been given. I wrote a note to the teacher, questioning whether this was an appropriate word to put on a vocab list -- I have no problem with discussing it in class, and explaining its meaning in the context of the story and its time, but to ask kids to put it in a sentence? To test them on it, and expect them to add it to their vocabularies? No! Right?

The teacher just called me back and explained that it's a word that people use, and it's part of the English curriculum, and that when she quizzed the class none of them knew what it meant and so it's on the vocab list. Isn't it a good thing they don't know what it means? It just floors me that this is thought to be a good word to encourage them to use. The teacher kept mentioning that it's the word her grandmother used ... but gads, aren't there lots of words our grandmother used that we would never never never want to make part of the English curriculum today? This is a special-ed teacher! Am I nuts here? I hugely do not want to pick a fight with this teacher; she's just come back from a maternity leave, replacing a substitute who was neither a special-ed teacher nor a language-arts teacher and basically wasted a semester of my daughter's time. This teacher seems to be doing a lot of things that are right, and other teachers I respect have spoken well of her. But she clearly doesn't "get" my concern here, and so I'm wondering: Am I overreacting? What would you do if your child came home with "Mongoloid" as a vocab word to learn?

Of course, it doesn't help that my daughter put her brother's name down as her "cue" for remembering "Mongoloid," and put as her sentence "My brother is a Mongoloid," leaving me to explain that a) you must never, ever write or say a sentence like that and, b) your brother does not actually have Down syndrome. The fact that this word is being systematically taught to kids who don't have the filters on their thinking to use it correctly is pretty disturbing, too.


Marie said...

I would suggest that the only sentence your daughter could rightly use for this assignment is something along the lines of, "Mongoloid is an outdated, offensive term that has been replaced by 'a person with Downs Syndrome' much as the word 'colored' is no longer used to describe African-Americans."

Terri said...

Her language abilities are a lot simpler than that, so after we discussed it she changed her sentence to read "Mongoloid is a very mean word to say." Which works, too.

Glenda Watson Hyatt said...

Wow, I can't believe the teacher's insistence on using such language!

Terri, I applaud your efforts for bringing the issue to her attention. Please stick with it! Imagine the outcry if she was teaching the N-word -- a word her grandma also no doubt used. Why should people with disabilities be referred to with less respect?

Point the teacher to this article - I apologize for the long url, hope it comes through.

Anonymous said...

Good for you for speaking up. I have a brother with Downs Syndrome and I can tell you that using the term "mongoloid" in incredibly offensive. How riduculous. I would suggest your daughter use the sentence suggested by the other post. ha! How ridiculous. Let the is be a great lesson for your daughter about how rude and insensitive this world can be.