Fairview school asks students to end use of 'R' word

AUBURN — A new sentence — and a new campaign — is being promoted at Fairview Elementary School this week: “Spread the word to end the word.”

Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal

Lisa Bird of Special Olympics Maine talks to students about not using the "R" word  and explains how the word hurts those with disabilities.

Submitted photo

Fairview Elementary School students on the school's civil rights team wear their "Spread the word to end the word" shirts.

Auburn Fairfield Elementary School students are hearing what's wrong with using the "R" word this week and signing pledges not to use it.

The word students are signing pledges not to use is “retarded.”

Lisa Bird of Special Olympics Maine spoke to an assembly of students Monday, explaining the issue. She also showed the students pictures of her young friends.

“These are Matty and Katelyn. They have Down Syndrome,” Bird said. “It hurts me so much when I hear someone use the word 'retard.'” 

For someone with an intellectual disability, going to school can be scary, Bird said. Some are shy and afraid, and they don't talk out of fear they'll be laughed at.

When they hear the word being used to mean "dumb," it makes them feel bad about themselves, she said.

“We might say, 'I look retarded,' or 'Stop acting like a retard!' or if you did bad on a test, 'I'm such a retard,'” Bird said.

She asked students if they've ever used the word like that. A few hands shot up.

She asked if they've heard others use the word like that. Almost all hands shot up.

Bird explained how improper use of the word evolved.

“A long time ago, when someone was diagnosed with an intellectual disability, it was called 'mental retardation,'” Bird said. Because those who are intellectually disabled learn a little slower, may look or act a little different, society started using the word to mean "dumb" or "stupid."

But that's taking someone's medical diagnosis and making them feel bad, Bird said.

“People can be really mean and hurtful and use words to make you feel bad," Bird said. "All of us know what that feels like.” Sometimes, she said, people can be mean “even when we don't mean to be. Nice people can say things that can make people feel bad.”

She asked students to consider promising not to use the “R” word for a day. If they succeed, don't use the word for another day. She challenged students take it a step further and not use the word for a whole week — then never again.

If they hear someone else say the word, tell them it's not nice and ask them not to use the word, Bird said. The goal is to wipe out the "R' word, and other words being used in harmful, hurtful ways.

Students nodded heads in agreement.

“One of my best friends has Down Syndrome,” said Caroline Audette, 9, a third grader. “It's not a nice word. We shouldn't say it.”

Jeremy Carter, 12, said using the word to mean "dumb" is incorrect. “The actual term 'retard' means 'delayed' or 'slowed,' not a disability,” he said.

Connor Fontaine, 13, coaches fellow students with special needs to play tennis and use snowshoes. Use of the word doesn't belong in society, he said. “No, not at all.” 

School counselor Susan Davis said “End the word” activities will go on this week, including door decorating and raffles for shirts, tote bags and caps. Students on the school's civil rights team are wearing "End the word" shirts.

The message blends well with Fairview's new “Project Unity,” where Fairview students are volunteering to pair up with special needs students, Davis said. Together, students work on classroom assignments, athletics and recreation.

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Jason Theriault's picture

I dunno.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that people want to be nice to each other and whatnot, but I think this is a loosing battle. The reason is that mental retardation is not in anyone's book a positive thing. It's one thing to rail against slurs based on race, religion, sexual preference and whatnot. The reason is that any judgement about one being better than the others is based purely on perspective. Would anyone argue that mental retardation is a preferred condition? There is no stereotyping - mental retardation is a disability.

So whatever term is the new clinical diagnosis will be shortened and become the next "slow" or "retarded".

I'm not condoning the use of retard(I have used it, but I have made an effort not to because I'm not a jerk), I just see it as fighting the tide. People are jerks, and will continue to be jerks.

Catherine Pressey's picture


I agree that words hurt, however even school Administration can hurt children, in many ways like grouping all the very gifted kids in one classroom and putting the others together. Been there in my young years, heck even the favorite teacher in the school I attended got the gifted students in their class. Now you see gifted can hurt too, meaning they were given something better than the others. Like the Ups programs, all this attitude hurts the just average student. My idea is that we should treat all the students equal not separate them from each other. In the one room schools the students, helped the teacher by lending some aide to another student. Many words and attitudes in our schools hurt, the student body. Lets think about how it feels to the here is a word average student. What is average. Yes! Middle ground, you see if a student is trying to do there best. No matter where they sit in the so called IQ place. And if they reach the top for whom they are, no matter where they sit. And get encouraged to strive for the top of the mountain and not accept, where society places them, huge differences can come about. I learn the word dumb long ago, from the teachers. When they place all those gifted kids in one class, and the others elsewhere. Heck we even go through life being made fun of. Even at my older years. Been hurt a bit on this comment sight. LOL Well you get used to it after years, but it does not mean it did not hurt. WORDS HURT, I AGREE.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Are you paying attention to

Are you paying attention to this, Steve?

Janice Bachelder's picture

The R word

As a mother of three children with disabilities I would love the remove that word. It hurts and is demeaning to people. Even some without a disablities. I pray that this could happen in all schools everywhere. The children are human beings too . They just see the world of learning differently. To me they are special in a special way. Listen to them they have things to say too.


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