Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Blubber" and the power of words

"Words are chameleons, which reflect the color of their environment."--Learned Hand

As I posted earlier, I am revisiting books by Judy Blume and thinking about how I first learned about her and just reminiscing about the importance of her books as a teen. Initially, I was going to read the 12 books I checked out from BPL and then write, but a couple of things happened that made me reconsider that approach.

· Some of the books I’m rereading are still resonating with me as an adult
· There was an exchange on FriendFeed that has me thinking about bullying
· Remembered a school trip where words and their power

A couple of days ago, Ambookgeek shared a link with me for the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign and I shared in on Friendfeed. It ended have a fair amount of comments (mainly from one person) and this got me thinking again about the power of words. It is also fitting that I just finished Judy Blume’s Blubber, which is about bullying. Now, I understand that words change their meaning and the one commenter focused on his belief that the term “gay” does not hold the same meaning that the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign claims. I disagree with him because recently, I had to deal with a student feeling harassed by his peers because they were calling the student and said student’s actions as “gay.” And also because the main focus of the campaign, which is about battling ignorance, stereotypes, bullying and harassment, takes precedence over focusing on only one aspect of the campaign (“Don’t Say That’s So Gay”). One of the goals of the campaign is to start a conversation about how some comments, that are thrown around casually, can also be viewed as hurtful by others.

The incident that occurred happened right under my “watchful” eye. In “Blubber,” there are a couple of scenes where the kids start harassing Linda, the girl they all call “Blubber,” in the bathroom, during break, and even in class with whispered insults. If I remember correctly, as a kid, we definitely found ways to sneak around teachers whether it was speaking another language, passing notes, or simply whispering. I was unaware of the harassment because the student was laughing and joking around with the harassers. I felt awful that I did not know it was happening because the student never spoke up and the kids were acting like it was not even going on. How are we as educators/adults supposed to know when these things are happening? We can’t unless students tell use the truth. The same attitudes and actions that are illustrated in “Blubber” continue to be held by students today. We are not mind readers and for most kids, we are not viewed as confidants. We learn of these things some times when it is too late.

This brings me back to the exchange on FriendFeed because, if I am understanding it correctly, “gay” does not mean the same thing to kids as it does to adults. This is probably simplified but that is the gist. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t but here is what happened during a school trip. Tears were streaming down this kid’s face, “They kept calling me ‘gay’!” the student kept saying. Since the beginning of the week some of the kids had been commenting that the student was “gay” and that everything the student did was “gay.” “Gay” equaled “bad.” “Gay” was an insult. Herbert Spencer states “"How often misused words generate misleading thoughts." (Principles of Ethics (1879)). Thinking about “Blubber,” the harmless word “blubber” turned into a major source of hurt and pain for the character, Linda. Seemingly innocuous words’ (e.g. “gay”, “jock”, “nerd”, “blubber”) meanings can change and for some people can cause pain. As a citizen of this world, it is important to start the discussion about the power of words and its effect on people. It maybe not change peoples’ minds about certain things, but at least, an awareness is there.

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