In the fourth grade, my teacher, Mrs. King, designed an exercise that banned “good” as an adjective from the classroom.
No longer could we respond to “How was your day?” with the stock answer “good.” Also, “good” could no longer be used to describe a book or a lunch meal.
In proper celebration, each of the roughly 30 students penciled the letters G-O-O-D on lined paper and folded their work. We put all the “goods” in a box and sent them on “vacation.” The result: We all flexed our brain muscles and put into practice new adjectives—ones that specifically addressed what we wanted to say.
Perhaps laziness fostered our overreliance on the word. Perhaps we lacked the thoughtfulness to offer a truly meaningful answer. Or maybe no one had challenged us to think concretely and in other terms.
But once we all had bid adieu to our fair friend “good,” the vastness of language took on a new form.
So our lunch was “filling” or “delicious” or “marginal.” Our days morphed into “spectacular,” “fun,” “exhausting” and “challenging.” We had learned to really say what we meant rather than offer some vague reference.
I remembered this after reading a comment recently on the Teaching Tolerance Facebook page about the phrase “that’s so gay.” It’s a flip phrase that means a variety of things. Teaching Tolerance has already done a great lesson on “that’s so gay.” But I wondered if Mrs. King’s approach to the phrase might also be helpful.
While we’d rather kids practice kindness and not make personal comments about others, we understand that sometimes they may not like or agree with something. In those instances, we encourage clear communication that cannot come from a flippant phrase.
I’d like to start the list and invite others to send suggestions so we get a powerful list of phrases that will say what we really mean without with offending anyone.
So let’s see…
“That’s so out of date because...”
“That doesn’t make sense to me, I was thinking...”
“I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.”
“That’s so out of the scope of reality.”
“That’s unfair because….”
The Ad Council of America and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) launched an ad campaign, “Think Before You Speak.” The ads challenges people to consider how hurtful their language can be when the identity of someone is used as an insult. The ads featured Hilary Duff and comedian Wanda Sykes.
A visit to the website www.thinkb4youspeak.com reveals there is a lot of work to do to stamp out LGBT slurs, especially on social media outlets like Twitter.
But it can be done. It must be done in fairness.
What suggestions do you have?
Williamson is associate editor at Teaching Tolerance.