Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A shocking truth about the bestseller Wonder and its disability dis


I keep meaning to read Wonder; a lot of people have recommended it. As you may know, it's a best-selling novel about a 10-year-old boy, Auggie, who has a rare congenital disorder called mandibulofacial dysotosis that causes facial deformity. Auggie's a cool kid who wants to be treated like every other kid. Written by RJ Palacio, the story is told from several p.o.v.'s—Auggie's, classmates, his sister, her boyfriend—and has been described as "a meditation on kindness."  

Last week, I got an email from a reader about a disability slur in the book. Tracy T. is based in Puyallup, WA; her 12-year-old, Melyssa, has developmental delays and other issues and her 10-year-old, Dylan, is in the gifted track. Dylan's teacher is reading Wonder to the class. "Today," wrote Tracy, "my son told me that the main character in the book says, 'I'm not retarded!' This has me incredibly upset. We have worked very hard to rid our home of this ugly, outdated, hurtful word. My son has explained, quite clearly and eloquently to his friends, why it is unacceptable. Then it pops up in class...."


I was also floored that a book with such good intentions contained that wording. I got a copy and there it was on page 218 of the hardcover:

"Stop lying to me Mom!" I shrieked. "Stop treating me like a baby! I'm not retarded! I know what's going on!"

If you're not sure what's wrong with the word "retarded," I'll sum it up: For decades, "mental retardation" was a medical diagnosis for people with cognitive impairment. But as "retard" and "retarded" became slang for "stupid" and "loser," medical experts and nonprofits started using "intellectual disability" instead. The government has since removed the term from federal health, labor and education laws, and the majority of the states have passed similar legislation. (For more on why the word "retard" is hurtful, see this, this and this).

Tracy found the author's email on her website and emailed her:

 
Tracy received an automated response that noted, "Due to the high volume of email I've been getting, I'm no longer able to answer each and every email (though I'm trying)!" The next day, Tracy informed me, "without any further communication on my end, I got the response I forwarded to you." The message she shared:

Whoa. Just, whoa. The writer of a book acclaimed for its "kindness" was purportedly saying she had to use "retarded" because it's how kids speak in real life. That she conscientiously made the decision to include it. As if there were no other inoffensive real-world language Auggie could have used. Kids also curse, and I didn't see a single one in the book.

RJ Palacio is a pseudonym for Raquel Jaramillo, a publishing veteran who's director of children's books and creative director for Workman Publishing. Wonder is her literary debut. It's gotten props from schools, the craniofacial community and even towns. Understanding Our Differences, a national nonprofit whose mission is to develop understanding and respect for students with disabilities, has held readings with the author.

I am not trying to undermine all the good Wonder has done—one word does not undo that. The book's core message of empathy, acceptance and respect are admirable. Countless kids have learned from it; tweens who rated the book at Common Sense Media commented on how it taught them not to judge by appearances and to better appreciate those with differences. Wonder even sparked an online anti-bullying campaign, Choose Kind, with a pledge people can sign.

So why include a word that demeans people with intellectual disability? A word the Special Olympics has rallied against with its own campaign and pledge, Spread The Word To End The Word. It makes no difference that Auggie himself says the word; he uses it as a synonym for "stupid," as many people do, reinforcing the stereotype that those with intellectual disability are stupid.

It's disappointing that the first successful young adult novel about a kid with a condition that makes him different has this wording. Wonder was meant to breed understanding: Several years ago, Jaramillo was with her kids at an ice-cream store, and they sat near a girl with a facial deformity. When her three-year-old cried, the author left the store. In September, Jaramillo told NPR's All Things Considered that she was angry at herself for her reaction: "What I should have done is simply turned to the little girl and started up a conversation and shown my kids that there was nothing to be afraid of," she said. "But what I ended up doing was leaving the scene so quickly that I missed the opportunity to turn the situation into a great teaching moment for my kids. And that got me thinking a lot about what it must be like...to have to face a world every day that doesn't know how to face you back."

I got what she meant. Max has visible differences, and kids and sometimes adults stare. He's 10, same age as Auggie. As his mom, I long for a world that's comfortable around Max, a world that lets him be  who he is instead of gaping at his gait. The language we use to describe those with disabilities isn't going to change everything, obviously, but it's one more way to encourage respect.

Words matter. A writer's aware of that more than anyone else.

In the book, one of Auggie's teachers tells students, "When given the choice between being right, or being kind, choose kind." I say: When given the choice of using a slur or not, don't use the slur. And spare us the defense that it's how kids talk.

Tracy wrote back to Jaramillo noting that she'd spoken with her son's teacher and school librarian, and they would be using the mention of the word as a learning opportunity. (Too bad the book didn't—Auggie's mother could have called him on it.) I hope other educators and parents take note of the wording and do the same. And I hope Jaramillo considers what Tracy said, includes a mention of the topic in future talks and adds a talking point about this to the "Questions to discuss" teacher section of her site.

This isn't about censorship—it's about about encouraging acceptance, exactly what Auggie and countless kids who have differences and disabilities want. The words "retarded" and "retard" have no place a book that seeks to make life better for kids who are different.

100 comments:

  1. The authors response just proves my growing suspicion - few people on the 'outside' get it.
    Other groups have done such a better job of asserting their right to be respected. Would she have used a racial slur and then justified it? How about something to do with sexual orientation?
    As usual people with disabilities are told to just deal with it because that's how life is. No other group settles for that.

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  2. Thanks for sharing. I'm not sure how I feel. I think I need to read the book. I feel confident a 10-year-old with multiple differences would know that some might use the word to describe him. In moments of frustration this age group will often use words that they normally wouldn't use. If the character really wanted to get a point to his mom, this would do it. I would see this as a "HEY MOM, PLEASE LOOK AS SEE THE REAL ME AND QUIT TRYING TO TREAT ME DIFFERENT" My girls (7th and 9th grade) know and completely understand why the word shouldn't be used. My son is 5th grade, autism, completely non-verbal, w/ crano-facial differences. Just my thoughts.

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    1. Gad you've taught your girls that. You're making the same point the author did (this is how kids talk), which I just don't find to be much of an excuse. Would she have ever let the character say a racial epithet, without any reaction or consequences? I think not.

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    2. I commented below, but to join in on this discussion, I think Janet might be saying that perhaps a real-life Auggie wouldn't have chosen that word just because it's all he knows, but chosen it on purpose to hurt/shock his mom. While we have insight into the author's motivation, literature is a work of art and open to interpretation based on the reader's experience.

      Thinking of tween/teens I know (or even the tween/teen I was)- choosing language to most hurt your mom is par of the course. Auggie may have chosen that word intentionally, knowing full well how bad/hurtful/insulting it is, as a way to drive home his point to his mom.

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    3. Agreed, a possibility. Kids certainly use the word. But why did the author HAVE to use THAT word? And just let it lie?

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    4. None of us have read it- perhaps the resolution to the argument does address how Auggie was feeling? Offers more insight into what was going through his mind?

      Perhaps a Twitter campaign encouraging parents and educators who are reading the book with kids to make that a 'discussion question' would be more useful than just expressing displeasure to the author/publisher.

      In general, I am wary of censoring authors. If we wouldn't censor the n-word in Huck Finn, I don't think we should should censor the r-word in Wonder. They may be nasty, but they are reality, and literature can provide an avenue for kids to explore what the words mean and what they do to people.

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    5. Not sure how reading the book would change the fact that the author used retarded as pejorative. If we are going to say that it's okay to use retarded and/or retard just because that's the language 10 year olds use, we will never be successful at changing how typical kids view our children with differences. It's not like the author used the language to have it be a teaching moment. If you want to make changes in how your child is treated, then you have to accept that it's never appropriate to use the R word.

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    6. Huck FInn? Really?! Huck Finn was published in 1884! I am completely against censorship, but I do believe the author used this word in error. As Ellen stated, a book about acceptance and kindness SHOULD NOT USE THIS WORD.

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    7. I don't really see how the rules we apply to the n-word would differ for the r-word. In works of literature depicting lives of those harmed by the use of those words, how do you tell the story without using the word?

      Slut, whore, spic, kike, fat cow, stupid bitch, nigger, towel head, retard. They are horrible words. They are words that harm. How to you write a story about acceptance without showing the rejection?

      I think the point of including those words it to demonstrate the hurt. I think we all hope there will be a day when using the r-word is as un-PC as using the n-word or other slurs, that doesn't mean we whitewash the past.

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    8. MommaComma, your point of using words to demonstrate the hurt is an excellent one. Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to the usage of "retarded" in this book. If I'm missing something and the author did use the phrase to "demonstrate the hurt," please inform us all.

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    9. Well from that tiny passage it's clear that Auggie's angry and upset- he feels ignored or babied- he's basically throwing in his mom's face that she's treating like 'a retard'. I think it's clear that he is hurting, and he chooses a word that hurts to show how he feels he's being treated.

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    10. I think 99.9% of the population wouldn't read it that way. But that's just me.

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    11. I agree mommacommaphd. I haven't read the book, but reading that passage, I felt hurt and pain from the boy. I'm not sure if there is another word that really could have demonstrated that pain. And I know a lot of self-advocated who refer to themselves as 'crip' and 'retard' in order to make a point about a situation. I would not at all be surprised if my son were to one day use the word with his communication device out of hurt and anger, even though we do not condone the word and we most always point it out if someone we are talking to says it. We simply say, "We don't use that word."

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  3. Everyone on Twitter needs to tweet your displeasure. It's the only way to change the minds and hearts of those who don't get it. It also changes what happens in the second edition. She can change it and so can her publishers (Knopf). If they see there is a ground swell of displeasure, we can change what happens going forward. The real problem is that in the year 2013 we're still putting out fires. @rjpalacio is her twitter name.

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  4. Ellen using a blanket approach to get people to stop saying retard is NOT going to make people stop using it. You have to employ a context by context, person by person, situation by situation approach if you REALLY want to get rid of the word retard.

    Please use your brain and learn the context in which the word is used in instead of getting mad, leaping to possibly untrue conclusions and pissing people off. Read Stacie Lewis's BabyCenter post about the campaign.

    Here's the link- http://blogs.babycenter.com/mom_stories/03072012-why-i-wont-ban-the-word-retard/.

    I'm NOT saying you have to put up with the word used in the offensive context. No one should have to really. If you are serious about this, use the person by person context by context approach to solve it. I'm saying the blanket approach isnt gonna work.

    Natalie
    Amelia's mama

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    1. Natalie, let me ask you a few questions:

      By "blanket approach," do you mean writing about this issue on my blog? Blogs are a place where writers air their opinions and feelings. If you do not wish to hear my opinion on these sorts of things, you might want to go read, say, a style blog.

      How are you so very sure that I don't address this on a person-by-person basis in real life as well?

      Re, leaping to possible "untrue conclusions"–did you somehow miss the image on the top of this blog that shows the word in the book? Or where it shows the response the author sent? Did you actually read the post?

      What's wrong with a multi-pronged approach—writing to raise awareness and get conversations going, talking about it in person?

      Are you aware of the messages and emails I receive from people? No? Here's a recent one:

      I hope you and your lovely son are doing well.  You don’t know me, but I just wanted to take a minute of your day to thank you. 
       
      I have four children, ranging in ages from 6-14.  My wife and I do our best to try to teach them to be kind and respectful to everyone.  In the world we live in today, sometimes it can feel like an impossible battle.  We try to teach them right from wrong, limit what they see and hear, and demonstrate kindness by our actions.  But it seems like we’re always working from behind. 
       
      Yesterday I noticed my son was having a harmless text conversation with a girl in his class.  Later that night, I noticed he had used the word “retarded” in one of his texts, to describe how he felt about something.  I realized although we talked about people with disabilities, and he knows of people with them, I don’t think we’ve ever talked about the impact of using that word.
       
      Since sometimes I have trouble really explaining things well and getting my point across, I decided to look online for the best verbiage to use when talking to him about this.  Something simple but effective.  That’s when I found your video.  I’m not sure when you made it or what prompted you to do it, but I have to tell you it was exactly what I was looking for. 
       
      So long story short, from one parent to another, thank you for taking the time to put that video together.

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    2. I just want to say to Natalie...."ain't nobody got time for that" seriously. Why DO we have to work so hard for equal respect? I see a case by case approach as a small part of this culture change as it has been for other communities who have tackled hate language. But I also see the success of the gay community the black community women, none of these equal members of society changed the culture without a big, monumental,force that could not be ignored. The change will happen but it has to involve many tactics.

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  5. Although the R word leaves me seeing red when used in a derogatory way, I am also on the fence in this particular situation and I think Janet Doll (above) makes a very good point. That being said, the word "stupid" would have worked in that sentence and it's also a word kids use all the time.

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    1. Not sure I'm following what you say—you see red when the word is used in a derogatory way, but when the book's character says "I'm not retarded! I know what's going on!" that's not inherently insulting to people who have ID?

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  6. In another couple of years, "delayed" will serve as the the new "retarded." Simply changing a word does not change perceptions and feelings associated with the word. We need to address issues not words, as someone else has pointed out.

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    1. I'd love to better understand why we can't address BOTH issues and words? As I've noted here and other places, refraining from using a word won't alone change perceptions and situations, but it's just one more thing we CAN do.

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    2. Would you or someone else here please explain the difference between "retarded," "delayed," "disabled," and "handicapped," and why the latter 3 words are not offensive. Also, if the word 'retarded' were eliminated completely, what would the next offensive word be? And if that word were eliminated, what would the next offensive word be? (BTW, we also consider the words: "stupid" and "idiot" offensive, and our kids don't use them.)

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    3. Click on the links in the post, next to where it says "For more on why the word is hurtful..." Retard" and "retarded" have become completely pejorative words, and their use is rampant. You could also check out r-word.org, where Special Olympics explains why they started the campaign about it. I'm sure not saying other words wouldn't come along, but I am going to speak out against this one, as it's insulting and because many people don't seem to get why it is.

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  7. I agree the word is offensive. Having not read the book, I can only speculate, but is including the r-word in a book about a kid with a disability as crucial as including the n-word (or other slurs) in books about race?

    I've read books with the n-word in them. Each time I read it, it's like a slap in the face (and rightfully so).

    Was the use of that r-word meant to be a slap in the face to the reader?

    The passage seems to be about a disagreement between mother and son. What mother's heart wouldn't break hearing her son say that- not only that sentiment, but that wretched word? Would "developmentally disabled" have caused the mother to stop and gasp in shock? I don't think so.

    And while I was a kid before the movement to end the r-word, it was thrown around as an insult often. I'm guessing it still is. In all likelihood, Auggie would be on the receiving end of such a slur and know how horrible and painful it was.

    I am 100% in favor of ending the use of the r-word. I know the pain it has caused my loved one. However, I don't want books like Wonder sanitized (censored?) of language, I don't want people to forget the pain it causes, I want them to remember the pain it causes. Remember so they know why they shouldn't use it.

    I think sanitizing literature of the r-word would be like sanitizing literature of the n-word. Should we use those words in everyday conversation? Definitely not. Should we be able to read literature about times when those words were commonly used to demean and degrade people- yes. How else would we understand the experience of growing up black in the civil right era? Or in Auggie's case, growing up with a physical deformity in 2013?

    I think reading that book to students, and saying that hurtful word would be a perfect teaching moment. How to you think it made Auggie's mom feel to hear him say that? Why would he choose that word? Do you think he's called that by other kids? Have you heard kids use that word? How do you think it would make Auggie feel to be called 'retarded'? How do you think it would make other kids feel?

    It's out there. It's used as a slur. They can read the book and get inside Auggie's head in a way they might not with their peers. What better way to drive home the humanity of each of us and the weapon that is that word?

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    1. Excellent points made and exactly why, in this case, I am not offended by the use of the R word. You clearly stated my thoughts much more coherently than I was able to. :)

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    2. Yes, exactly, given that the word is in the book, it would be ideal to use it as a teaching moment. I wonder how many teachers/educators have done so, or if the author has.

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    3. This isn't a complicated issue for me--you don't use the R word, period--but fiction is a complicated example. I understand the author's point, and I would hope that instead of censoring the book, this example becomes a teaching moment.

      I've been thinking about what I would do, as a fiction writer. If I were writing a scene with a parent, I would think the parent would respond directly to the use of that word. On the other hand, unless that response advances the story, it's useless dialogue. Without that response, you imply the mother's acceptance of the word. Now what does that say about the character of the mother? If it makes sense in the story, I can see it, but if she's supposed to be sympathetic, it doesn't work.

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    4. Honestly, when I read that passage, I remembered a time from my own childhood.

      I forget what I had done, but I got into a fight with my parents and was sent to my room. I took the end of the school year awards I had gotten (some academic, some attendance or gym or something), I knew my parents valued my effort and achievement.

      I felt like they were treating me unfairly, like they were overlooking who I was, the hard work I'd done, and not appreciating me. So, I took those awards, tore each in 2, and left them on the stairs for my parents to find when they headed up to bed.

      My mom remembers finding them and feeling like crap- seeing me take this symbol of what made her proud of me, and destroy it. Demonstrating to her how they made me feel by punishing me.

      Reading that tiny excerpt, I wonder if Auggie was doing the same. Surely his mother worked hard to make him feel 'normal'/smart/loved/all the things moms do. What better way to twist the knife in a parent/child fight than to throw that word in there- to accuse the mother of doing exactly what she's devoted herself to not doing/undoing/protecting against?

      Obviously I may be reading too much into the short passage, but since none/few of us have read the book, we are all guilty of that.

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  8. "Please use your brain"?!?! People are....just wow....anyways, great post as usual.

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  9. Hi -- I had my own issue with another passage in the book, where the mom refers to the Grade 7s as ‘morons, imbeciles and cretinos.’ I wrote to RJ:

    "Those are demeaning/stigmatizing words used to describe people with intellectual disabilities, like my son. It’s unfortunate that the respected and loving mother figure in Wonder engages in those stereotypes, when the book is about breaking through them."

    This was the response I got from RJ:

    Dear Louise,
    Thanks so much for your email. I'm so glad you liked Wonder, and I'm sorry that you were disappointed in the mom's use of the words you mention below. Please keep in mind that she was referring to the bullies who targeted her son, not kids with developmental challenges, but I am keenly aware of how even that might strike a chord and I apologize for any discomfort it might have caused you.

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    1. This shows exactly how this writer doesn't understand. I absolutely loved the book, but was completely stopped in my tracks when I got to these words as well as "retarded." Using these words to describe the "bad" kids is exactly the point. Taking words that used to be purely descriptive (and associated with people, like my son, who have some developmental delays), and using them to describe the "bad" people in a story continues to perpetuate the notion that my child = bad. In attempting to defend herself he author of the book has made the point.

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    2. Well said, Lauren. Both of her responses ("It's how kids talk!" and "I wasn't talking about kids with ID!") make it clear the writer doesn't get it. But she does have the power to do something about it—starting with using negative descriptions as teaching moments in her talks and suggesting it to teachers and others.

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    3. I know I am coming to this late, but I think what is troubling people about Ellen's comment is that it is very hard to draw the line when dealing with a work of fiction. We are of course all entitled to our opinions, but the idea of putting pressure on an author to change her fictional work is one I find disturbing. Therefore I think the use as a teaching moment if read in school is by far the best solution and is an excellent idea. If it's not being read in school, then it should just be a non issue because then one can just choose not to read it.

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  10. I have read this book and loved it. My theory is that it was to add context and the author thought it was the best way to demonstrate it although I do not entirely improve. It is my least favorite word in the world but I am glad it was not another kid calling Auggie that. That would have bothered me more. If I was reading it aloud I would probably substitute a word in for it (like stupid) like I do when I read things with swear words. On a happier note, on Toyrus.com I think I saw a little model with a hearing aid! If you click on giftfinder, It's the little girl in the yellow dress. I hope it's a hearing aid and not part of her headband because that would make me happy.

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    1. When I read the book to the kids someday, and I will because I think it has a great message, I'd use the exact word and then talk about it. I will check out Toy R Us, great to know!

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    2. It is just too hard for me to say the word. But if I was a mom and my kid read the book I would defenatily discuss the word with them. But in a classroom setting(I want to be a teacher) you never know who you will hurt even if you are teaching a lesson.

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  11. Ellen, you know I'm ALL IN with you on eliminating the R-word, and while I do (mostly) agree that the word wasn't necessary in the context, that "it's part of the vernacular" isn't an excuse, and that the author missed out on a great opportunity for a teachable moment, I'm still inclined to cut her a little slack (and yes, for the record, I have read the book - over a year ago when it first came out).

    My Thursday post this week will be a review of a fiction book with two key characters who have ID, and I'll be giving it a positive review - in spite of what I'll call a few "deficiencies." The author didn't use people first language, which was a disappointment to me, and those instances leapt off the page. But as a whole, I felt that the book (written in the first person from a mother's point of view) was very honest and true to the experience of being a mother of a child with Down syndrome like I am. She raised a lot of questions that most people never consider when it comes to individuals with ID, and the overarching themes of the book more than made up for a few small deficiencies IMO. And, if I'm being honest, I'm just so pleased that an experienced fiction author cared enough about the subject matter to write it that it's easy for me to let those things go.

    I feel the same way about "Wonder". That one part of the book is icky, but the fact that the author poured herself into a book on a subject that she had no firsthand experience with - a book that, in the main, teaches valuable lessons that kids (and some adults!) need to learn - outweighs the ick.

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    1. Wonderfully put. I read this response after I wrote mine and I wish I could have put it this well!

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    2. Andi, looking forward to seeing your review. Why do you think you're not agreeing with me? I basically said the same thing you do here, in the paragraph that starts "I'm not trying to undermine all the good Wonder has done...."

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    3. I am guilty of writing my comment with one eye on you and the other eye trained on others who might read it. My sense when I read your post was that a lot of readers would miss the message that you weren't trying to undermine the book, even though you spelled it out in plain text. I didn't want to presume your intentions by speaking for you so I used my own experience to reinforce a point that I wasn't sure everyone would notice. Hope that's okay. :)

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  12. Hi Ellen, I have been going back and forth for the past two hours reading this post. It's weird/funny how terms go through a life span. What was once a medical definition is now politically incorrect, whether the term is wheelchair bound-uses a wheelchair, hearing impaired-deaf, physically challenged-could have meant a boat load of situations and etc. Being a person with dwarfism, back when I was growing up I would hear on occasions, "Hey look at the midget!". Those of us with dwarfism, consider that the "M" word. In the 80's we preferred to be called, LP's, Little People, but present day, some LP's consider that offensive. If I am not mistaken over in Australia, the LP's prefer the term, person with short stature. Who knows what the correct term will be in forty years. I had someone tell me that it is hard to know what to say and/or when to say it. One thing that the author has done, she lit the discussion fire. We need to bring positive awareness to words that have a negative connotation during the time era we live in.

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  13. I think the outrage over the use of the word "retarded" in this book is misguided. (Keep in mind that I have not read the book, only this excerpt.) As others have said, this is the word that a 10 year old boy would use in this situation. Apparently he thinks that his sister doesn't want her friends to meet him, because she's embarrassed by him. First he says he's not an idiot. Then he refers to himself as a freak. Finally he screams he's "not retarded," and storms off to his room. Don't you see what's going on here? If a kid is being teased or bullied, many times they won't go to their mom or dad and tell them what's going on. Why? Many times it's because they're ashamed. I think this is Auggie's indirect way of telling his mom that he HAS been called these names.

    You know, this is reality, this is literature, and this is one way literature helps us understand reality. This effort to cleanse our language of this one word reminds me of the misguided efforts to ban "Huckleberry Finn" and way one publisher has rewritten it substituting the word "slave" for "nigger." Mark Twain wrote a book that was a reflection of the society he saw and it was by holding a mirror up to that society that the readers were able to see it clearly, with all its faults. If we want kids to understand empathy and acceptance and the harm of bullying, I think we need to reflect their reality.

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    1. I agree with (what I think) Galen is saying. Artists should be given some slack. They have a special role in our society.... to help us understand our world and often that is the world as it IS not necessarily as we would like it to be. I say use it as a teachable moment, the author didn't set out to offend.

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    2. Many teachers have used Huckleberry Finn (the n-word's mentioned some 200-plus times) as a teaching opp about racism. So yes, it's truly misguided to ban it/clean it up. Wonder's a book that's being used as a teaching opp about empathy and understanding. Great thing. But Auggie using a slur does nothing to further understanding and acceptance about kids with intellectual disability, unless parents or teachers pick up on it and choose to discuss it. And I doubt any kid is giving it the careful reading you did, Galen—that Auggie's saying he has been called retarded and is ashamed. He used the word as a synonym for "stupid." THAT's what kids read.

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  14. I love your blog but I have to respectfully disagree with you in this case.While I can completely empathize with the offensive natural of the "r" word and the emotional response it creates in me, I disagree that because the author chose to use it it in her book it somehow devalues the significant message that the reader is left with after reading the book. Before getting all upset over this information one might want to read the book. I believe that all literature is a form of art and sometimes when authors are trying to realistically depict a situation they have to use unfortunate language. Not all art is pretty and PC . The fact is that the "r" word is still part of many peoples vocabulary. Yes we all want to change it and hopefully one day that will happen. As a mom with a child who has a obvious physical disfigurement and difference I can say that I was off put many times reading the manner in which the author describes the main character in the books facial disfigurement. However I know that the author was trying to be authentic in the dialogue used by typical kids and others who are not aware of the offensive nature of those terms. So even though there were moments in the book we difficult for me as a mother the I overall message of kindness and the way the book can appeal to typical kids who don't have any experience with the special needs community makes me see the great value in the book. The book is a quick read and I hope you still read it with an open mind. Even though in a perfect world we would all hope the "r" world would never be used, the fact the author chose to use it doesn't negate the profound effect this book can have on society.

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    1. See: "I am not trying to undermine all the good Wonder has done—one word does not undo that. The book's core message of empathy, acceptance and respect are admirable." At the same time, yes, I find her choice of wording disappointing.

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    2. Yes it was unfortunate wording but there are many other terms used in the book (esp when talking about Augies disfigurement) that could offend as well... Unless you view it as literature and take in the story as a whole. This may be the way the author chose to weave the story in order for it to impact the reader-- a preteen. I can understand the anger over the word in general but I guess even though you mentioned the positive impact the book has had your choice of sensationalist headline is getting a little absurd and anyone reading this post is not going to take anything positive away from it...

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    3. Very well said West family. I don't like the word either and I don't encourage my kids to use it. But let's not try to cover the sun with one finger.

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  15. I remember the first time I heard the word retarded associated with my daughter. It was devastating, not because it was a shock, but because of the negative, bullying aspect of the word. If the author had used this as a learning lesson, if it had been addressed IN ANY WAY at all, I would not have a problem, but it is just there. No reprimand by mom, no conversation about acceptance, nothing. I walked away from this book feeling like the message is 'be kind to those with physical differences, but you dont want to be a special needs kid!' On pages 115-116 Via (Augie's sister) tells Augie TWICE that if he doesn't go back to school he will be treated like a 'baby, or a kid with special needs'. The author, in my opinion made a valiant attempt to understand the world a parent of a special needs child lives in, but she failed miserably.

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    1. Artistic license -- the use of the (vile) word was the artistic choice of the author. Folks can petition the author to remove the word from her novel; the author is well within her rights to decline to do so. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

      Clearly the r-word was used as an epithet... so I'm unclear on how, say, replacing it with a DIFFERENT epithet would make the line less offensive. (I'm also unclear on having the mom in the book call her son out on his use of the r-word would serve to advance the story).

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  16. I'll preface this by saying I have not read this book, my knowledge of it is based solely on the content of this post. I am a fierce advocate for people with disabilities and do not condone the use of the word "retard" in any way. However, I believe that in the context of this story, it seems as if it has been used to show a young man taking control of the way people see and treat him and advocating for himself, a skill that I think we all hope to instill in our children. Teaching children not to use the word "retard" and stand up for others are absolutely appropriate, but to do this properly, context needs to be provided so that they can learn why this is the right thing to do.

    I remember being about Dylan's age when I first read a novel in school that included the "n-word." The teacher explained the history behind it, how it made people feel, how it still makes people feel, and why we shouldn't use it. We learned from the story and moved on with new knowledge.

    Pretending that children will never encounter offensive words is counterproductive.

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  17. The very best thing literature can do is spark or continue a conversation, and in this regard it has done just that. I loathe the "R" word and take pains to educate friends and family about it when it happens, but I do not object to it being used in this book.

    My 9-year-old son just finished reading Wonder (he is on the autism spectrum) and he loved it -- it really empowered him with its message of differences and acceptance.

    It is definitely a teachable moment when taught in class, though -- no argument there. It is also the reason I would not expunge it from the text. What better way to spark a classroom discussion and to educate kids why it's hurtful, why we should take care in how we treat others. Just my thoughts.

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    1. We all agree that this is a teachable moment. That said, the author didn't seemingly use the word "retarded" in the text as a teachable moment. The response I shared above said it was included because it's how kids talk. Nor did she include this in her site's list of talking points for teachers, which she could easily do. I hope she does, I tweeted the suggestion to her.

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  18. Ellen....
    "Words matter. A writer's aware of that more than anyone else.".
    Hi. I am a writer. Unpublished. But I am a writer who has currently been weaving together fictional children's stories. I post them on my Blog, "Minuscule is good!". {The address, in case you wonder, is this. http://writing--projects.blogspot.com/ .} Okay. Writers are, in my opinion, artists. Like painters, they work hard to express themselves. And. Although I try to avoid writing stories, sentences or characters which will offend people, sometimes it is easier if you simply do not care about hurting reader's feelings. But I do. I do care about hurting Reader's feelings. Now. Before you delete this comment because I took the author's side, I would like to close with this. I can't but agree. The author of "Wonder" could have--and perhaps should have--used a different word. I mean. There is such a thing as dictionaries and thesauruses. {I love them!!} I might have simply used the word "stupid". ;)
    --Raelyn







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    1. Ellen,
      Your son is a handsome child and his appearance cannot be compared to a person with a craniofacial anomaly

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  19. Hahaha. I love it when mommy bloggers come out with their guns blazing with no appreciation of context whatsoever. This doesn't show how ignorant the author is, this shows how ignorant YOU are. Perhaps you should stop getting so defensive the second you read something potentially offensive to you and actually read the book first. The author didn't choose the word to offend people, quite the opposite actually. I once read a boon called Stoner and Spaz about a kid with cp who referred to themselves as spaz and it was the best disability related book I have read. Yet, upon reading the title, you'd probably get your pitchforks out right? Get over yourself and your ignorant approach to this "crusade" of yours. By criticising people in this way, you are making things worse not better. Any author reading this would be put off writing anything about disability with a 10 foot pole and that's the real shame here.

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    1. "Any author reading this would be put off writing anything about disability with a 10 foot pole and that's the real shame here.". Oh. Really? I am a writer. Unpublished. But I am a writer who has currently been weaving together fictional children's stories. And this.... This has only encouraged me to write a story about someone with "special needs". Stay tuned. My character may have even been born with craniosynostosis. Like me.
      --Raelyn

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    2. Leaving a knee-jerk comment that shows you didn't understand a single point here (where does it say she chose the word to offend people? Does it at all seem like Auggie was OWNING the term?) and your derisive "mommy blogger" remark sure doesn't make me the ignorant one here.

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    3. Nah. Fact is that you hate being called out or challenged. Every single comment on this post that has attempted to explain why the author may have used the term, you have shut down. I understand the points of this post perfectly well. It doesn't change the fact that they are poorly made and that you have been offended over something not intended to offend. You may have experience parenting a disabled child but you have not had the experience of being a disabled person and that is a key and very important difference between my reaction to this and yours.

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    4. Responding to comments of all kinds, positive and negative, is how things go on blogs. Glad to have level-headed, intelligent discussions, but it's hard to do that when the main mode of "discussion" is responding to my response with the same point you've already made, and by being accusatory. If you could articulate why you're cool with the use of the word "retarded" in the book or in general, it would add to the discussion here.

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    5. And you remain anonymous.....how nice for you to be free to say whatever you want without judgement personally, without a preconceived idea of what or who you are and what you contribute to this free world. How luxurious. How rich. How perfect to prove the point we all do not share the same rich life of anonymity and equal respect. .

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    6. If Ellen does not want anonymous comments she should not allow them on her blog. I am simply taking advantage of a feature she has enabled, and you could do so too. I am a disabled person who has first hand experience of being called a retard, a handicap, a spastic, a worthless cripple, and whatever else people could come up with that day. That's all you need to know. But you wouldn't because most of you criticising this DON'T have personal experience.

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    7. Anonymous, that's part of my problem too. It's a commentary by someone who doesn't have a disability on a book written by someone who doesn't have a disability.... all about disability. It reminds me of when white people sit around and discuss racism or straight people discuss homophobia and how because they know someone or love someone affected by those issues they "get it". It's offensive, and it's privileged. The actual people being oppressed aren't even part of the conversation, and when those people join in, they're shut down because they say what their "allies" don't want to hear. As far as saying what you want without judgment personally, I don't put my personal information on the internet. That was internet safety 101 in elementary school.

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    8. I agree with Anonymous' comment. This constant criticism and nit-picking about every little comment people make to you or your child, every curious glance, every use of a certain word (that in many people's lifetimes was actually thought to be a progressive alternative to previous terminology), all of this serves to make people very uncomfortable and uptight and hesitant to reach out to kids with special needs or their parents. "What if I say the wrong thing?" "Honey, don't look at that kid in the wheelchair (his mother is glaring at you)." "Oh, no, that mom signed her kid up for this art class I'm teaching and I've heard she'll be calling me after every session to tell me what I did wrong with her kid." "I'd like to write a children's book about a kid with disabilities and how he learns to deal with bullying, but I'll probably be roundly criticized if I don't meet every point of disability correctness, so why put myself through that?" I agree that with Anonymous that this makes things worse, not better, because the upshot will be that people just decide it's easier and less stressful to ignore our kids and to give up on reaching out to them and to us. You seem to want it both ways: You want (demand) that your child be included and treated like a "typical" child, but at the same time, you want (demand) that the whole world bend over backwards to cater to his every special need and whim (only Max gets the purple crayon at his birthday party, the chef is supposed to cut his spaghetti, etc) and to be mindful of every single glance, facial expression, word, or tone of voice they send your way. And, finally, yes, sometimes people do resort to using an Anonymous identity here, because it is quite true that many times, if someone disagrees with or challenges Ellen, she responds with biting sarcasm and hostility.

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    9. OMG, Anonymous 2! Your insights have opened my eyes to my errant ways in trying to make the world better for my son and for other kids with special needs. It had never occurred to me till now how suck-y that is! And what interesting "twists" you have given things I've written about here and stories I've told! What a mind you have! Are you by any chance gathering content for an unauthorized biography? I also just wanted to say that you have lovely facial expressions.

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    10. Exhibit A: The sarcastic and hostile response Anon 2 predicted.
      Thanks for living up to those labels Ellen.
      Love
      "Anonymous 1"
      xoxo

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    11. OMG, I am SO sorry I left you out, Anon 1! You have lovely facial expressions too. And if you would ever like to explain your point, as I asked above, that would be an intelligent, non-attacking thing to do, wouldn't it?

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    12. I really don't understand your hostility, Ellen. For myself l, I find most blogs by parents of kids with special needs unreadqble; this is part of the reason why.
      I didn't find the criticisms unreasonable. In fact, I agree with some of them. There's making the world a better place for people with special needs and then there's over accommodating. I don't for a second doubt that you love your son or want what's best for him. I really don't. It's your blog and you make the rules, which is all well and good.

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    13. No. That would be me giving in to your bullying. I never said I was "cool" with the word retard: you are intentionally putting words in my mouth to make me look bad. I simply was making the point, as others were, that it was appropriate for that part of the book which of course, you have failed to read.
      You say you are willing to have level headed discussions but they truth is you're only willing to have level headed discussions when people agree with you. Should they not, you turn sarcastic and rude, and yet you think you have the right to criticise others without them reacting. What would you do if this author responded the way you have here? Blog about it some more I'm sure. Part of life is learning to take criticism without attacking back. Perhaps you should learn that and then teach it to your kids. No one's gonna like them if they respond to every criticism with a snarky response like you have. I have been reading your blog for a while now but you have really lost me with your reaction here, so I will take myself elsewhere. Good luck with everything. And save the "oh, such a shame to be losing you!" retort. I won't be reading it.
      P.S. My twitter name is @ezbear. Feel free to look me up and make nonsensical jokes about my real facial expressions.

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    14. Some perspective: You start off your first comment with the sarcastic "Hahaha love when Mommy bloggers come out with their guns blazing." You go on to call names, say stuff like "get over yourself" and then, comically, accuse Ellen of being sarcastic and hostile when you are glaringly so, and you were right from the start. And when she asks you to further explain what you said, you say you won't resound to "bullying." Meanwhile, the other commenter makes sweeping accusations. How would you like Ellen to respond?! She's clearly toying with both of you in her answers (which are actually kind of funny). If you look at her other comments here, sometimes they're strongly worded, but nothing over the top or mean like the ones you left. Of course you should disagree, this whole issue seems overblown, but the fact is that you can't do it without insults or serious hostility which only makes you seem...hostile. And pathetic.

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  20. The R word made me cringe in Wonder because of something else that made me cringe in Wonder: the emphasis on the fact that the main character's difference is only physical and not cognitive -- e.g., when the "good guy" adult (I think it was the principal?) counters the bigotry of the bully's family by protesting that Augie does *not* have special needs but merely looks different. I fully embrace the idea of promoting acceptance for people with physical differences but gosh, it sure would have been nice to see a adult in the book saying that *all* people deserve respect, even when they *do* have special needs. Granted it was set in a tony private school, so maybe that would not have been realistic either!

    And like you, I am not trying to take away from what Wonder *does* do, and do very well -- just lamenting an apparent blind spot.

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  21. I have not read the book, but I will address the idea that this is just "how kids talk".

    No, it's not how all kids talk. My kids have never said that. They have never talked like that because *I* have never talked like that.

    Do you know who does talk like that? Adults. Who then teach children how to use the word. Ergo, the author is now another adult telling kids "hey, it's okay to use this word". Children reading the book aren't going to understand why it's okay to read the word being used in a book, but not actually use it themselves.

    And I'll be honest - I never realized how many adults around me used the word "retarded" just like the book did until I had my daughter, who has cognitive disabilities. Then I noticed it every. single. time. Then I started calling them on it, and they'd laugh and go "Oh, you know what I mean."

    No. No I don't.

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    1. "Ergo, the author is now another adult telling kids "hey, it's okay to use this word". Children reading the book aren't going to understand why it's okay to read the word being used in a book, but not actually use it themselves." YES. THIS.

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  22. In this instance I do think the author's explanation that "this is how kids talk" holds water. I have Asperger's, so retarded is thrown around a lot in reference to me. I hate it. I loathe when people say "That's insane/crazy" or even worse "I have OCD because I organize my desk/schizophrenia because I thought you called my name/social anxiety because I didn't feel like doing tat public speaking presentation". No, you don't have OCD. I have OCD, and I spend hours each day on my rituals. No, you don't have schizophrenia. I have dear friends with schizophrenia and the delusions and hallucinations are absolutely terrifying. No, you don't have social anxiety. I have social anxiety, and I can barely leave my house because I'm terrified of being with other people. I can't go to the store. I can't go to the movies. I can't drive a car.

    But you know what? When I'm frustrated, when I feel awful, when I can't stand it I say things like, "I'm not crazy!" and "I'm not retarded!". Am I? No, I don't think so. I have some chemical imbalances, and yes, my life is quite different than yours but crazy and retarded? No. Are my friends with schizophrenia crazy? No. Again, they've got faulty brain chemistry.

    Society treats me like I'm "crazy", though. I'm sure society treats a lot of developmentally disabled people like they're "retarded". We know it, we recognize it, and yes, we'll even say it. So yeah, it's a horrible word. It's a horrible state of being when society views you as less than, and we know what is to be less than. We're marginalized. No one talks to US, they talk at us or to our families or doctors or therapists. I felt the character's frustration. I felt the anger. I felt how infuriating it is to be seen in a certain light based on a diagnosis, and how other people don't get it.

    The idea that people on the "outside" don't get it is true, but on this... you're on the outside too. Yes, your son has special needs but you don't. That's not something to feel guilty about, but bear in that mind.

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    1. This comment is spot on. Thank you.

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    2. A powerful comment, Sonia. Please understand, I'd never claim to know what it's like to be an adult with disabilities. But I have come to know adults with disabilities who share my goals of wanting respect, fair treatment and no pity for kids and adults with disability. My greatest wish is for Max to be accepted as an equal and not a "less than," as you say. As your comment shows, society has a long way to go.

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    3. I'm an adult with a disability and I disagree with Sonia's comment - although she is right about parents being on the outside. Generally I steer clear of parents with kids who have disabilities. They can be so hostile to anyone who challenges their idea of disability...but you Ellen seem so different. So much of what you write seems to champion the person with the disability.
      I do get what sonia is saying, but the word has no place in this type of lit.

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  23. I loved the book. I understand your concerns, but I think they are a bit misplaced. If anything, it shows that none of us are perfect, that a kid with one type of disability is not more correct than any other person under duress. Everyone, not just the unaware or uninitiated, tosses around terms like 'retard', 'crazy', 'spaz', 'idiot', etc in an unconscious effort to distinguish themselves from whatever it is they think is worse. And it stinks for any of us who are part of that group, but it is very real human behavior, from very real and imperfect people. The characters in this book are reflective of this, and it is part of what makes the book so very, very, good. I get your point, but I really think it is missing the big picture. Read the book.

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    1. Hi, Julie. I get your point, too. I clearly believe the book has a whole lot of worth. And it's very true that kids use those terms in real life and all over social media (you might want to check out the hashtag #retard on Twitter one day if you haven't). But does that make it OK? In any case, the truth is that kids who read this book sure aren't giving the phrase any sort of careful reading or thought. They read another kid using the word, it reinforces that it's OK to use the word. And to me, as a parent of a kid who has ID, it's not.

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  24. ^ Ahem... Read the book before you take such a stance .

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  25. I'm apparently in the minority here, but I agree with the author that it is appropriate to use in the context she indicates. I have two SN kids myself, and I think most of us are being ultra-hypersensitive. Most people over 30 grew up with this as a standard medical term and descriptive that was no stranger or stronger than saying that some one is autistic or dyslexic now. I had actually been baffled about how one was now supposed to describe this medical condition, if the traditional term was taboo. "Intellectually disabled" doesn't really do it for me, as it is far more vague and may encompass many different conditions. I absolutely loved Wonder. It helped my SN grade-schooler cope with bullying he was facing when we read it. You'd be throwing the baby out with the bathwater if you skipped this book out of PC-ness.

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    1. Yes, it would be ridiculous to skip a book because of some wording that didn't sit right. But it isn't ridiculous to wish that the author had chosen non-offensive language in a throwaway sentence. Do you also think Special Olympics is being ultra-hypersensitive in their campaign against the word?

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  26. Great and thoughtful and smart writing. Love this post and what a great discussion to have.>the use of Retarded in kids books. I agree that the R word needs to live with the n word, out of site BUT kids do use these words. If kids use these words in books maybe the adults or other kids in books need to speak up. I don't know... it is complicated.

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  27. I don't know about this. Many, many good shows and books and movies deal with the effects of prejudice powerfully - and in leaving the language and actions as in life, show just how infuriatingly absurd it all is. Not talking about this book specifically, as I haven't read it, but yes, bad and offensive language have their place in literature. I recall once going to a play where a character previously portrayed as good suddenly came out with the "n" word, setting up a chain of events that brought on the main conflict. To this day I remember how powerful that moment was, how the audience gasped, and how the mood changed instantly.

    Life isn't pretty, and life isn't fair, and sometimes art will reflect that. I won't say it "has to", because it doesn't, but sometimes coming out with something shocking or upsetting is just what is needed to bring the message home. As long as it is not glorifying the offensive incident, that is.

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  28. I read the book very recently, as it was assigned to my son in school (he is 11). I enjoyed the book overall, but did feel a sick, startled feeling when I saw "that word". I read that interaction between Auggie and his mom as 'I have facial differences but at LEAST I'm not ID!' Which I actually took as a worse statement than just the word alone would imply. As if having an ID would be so, so much worse than what Auggie was dealing with.
    For reference, I am a fairly non sensitive person and respect an author's right to use language for impact, and my child does not have an ID (but he does have some social issues). I just thought that passage offset too much of the 'be kind to others and get to know them before judging' message throughout the rest of the book. I likely would have been somewhat less critical, were the book not a school assignment. I would have put the book down thinking 'not a great move there by the author, what a shame'. I think reaching out to the author as you did is a perfectly valid thing to do, and may hopefully prevent her from using that word / intent in the future.

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    1. Thank you for such a clear-headed, insightful comment. Truly.

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  29. When my sister was in middle school, she was assigned the book Huckleberry Finn for her English class, which uses the n-word multiple times. In our house, racial slurs are unacceptable. My sister is learning-disabled, so my father would read her assigned books aloud to her to help her learn. When he came to the word the first time, he stopped and explained where it came from, how it was meant in this context, and why we don't use that word anymore. And my sister said "ok" and she doesn't use that word.

    People absolutely use the word "retarded" still. Most people don't even know that it's considered a slur- they think it's still correct terminology. In this case, it was used by a kid, who has probably heard that word to refer to himself before. He's responding by saying that he's not what "retarded" implies- helpless, stupid, useless. It's apparent that Auggie knows what he means. If he had just said "I'm not intellectually disabled!" it wouldn't have that extra meaning. He's rejecting society's definition of "retarded" as it applies to him.

    The bottom line is, literature shouldn't be sanitized just because it makes you clutch your pearls. Having words like the n-word or retarded provides you a chance to critically think about why the author included it, what the character means when they say it. People do say "retarded" a lot. Is that okay? Probably not. But books don't reflect what society should be like- fiction often depicts life as it is. And the fact is, that's still part of the American lexicon.

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  30. I thought "Wonder" was a really, really wonderful book, but I do see your point that having that word pass completely unremarked sends the wrong message. I'm not sure why the author felt the need to pick such a loaded word that is painful for so many . . . why couldn't Auggie have just said "I'm not stupid"? I know that word is also problematic, but at least it's not a word that specifically attacks people with intellectual disabilities "Stupid" is a word I'd be willing to accept as "okay, it's not nice, but it's a word that kids (and adults) use a lot, and it makes sense that the character would use that word at that point."

    "Retarded," however, is a slur. I don't think it's categorically wrong to use a slur in a book targeted to roughly middle-school-aged children, since it is something they're going to hear in real life, and seeing it in a literary context gives them a chance to think about and talk about its impact. However, in that case, it's very important that the word be presented as a slur, not just a conversational word. If Auggie's mother had corrected him at all, even by saying something as simple as "Don't use that word," I would less uncomfortable with the word being in the book. Obviously the word itself is not acceptable, but the character's a kid who was upset and under stress at the time, and it does make some sense that as a kid who is stigmatized and bullied, he would want to distance himself as much as possible from another bully-able group, even if that meant using a derogatory term. Having his mother kindly-but-firmly correct him would send the message that even when you're hurt, scared, or angry, certain language is just not okay. A scene written that way would provide a much clearer jumping-off point for a teaching moment for kids.

    I hope that schools and parents are still able to use this as a different type of teaching moment . . . teaching that some slurs and hurtful words are so pervasive that they even show up in books that otherwise send a message of kindness and acceptance, which is why it's so important to look closely at and think critically about the language you hear/see/read, whether it's in a book, online, on TV, or in everyday conversation.

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    1. I hope so, too. Someone on Facebook pointed out that it might have been unnatural for Auggie's mother to call him on the use of the word in the conversation they were having. I can see that, but the author's obviously a good writer and she could have found a way to touch on why wording like that isn't OK if she'd wanted to. No matter what, she could have easily used a different word. And that's what disappoints.

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    2. I don't think it would be that unnatural . . . if I heard any of the kids I take care of use that word at any point, I'd say something about it. I probably wouldn't start a long conversation about it if they were distraught and angry at the time, like Auggie was in that scene, but I would say "Don't use that word," or something to that effect, just like I would if they swore at me, used a racial slur, etc. I feel like most parents I know would do the same. And you're absolutely right, it would have been sooooo much easier for her to have just use a different word. I feel like aside from the moral implications of that word choice, it was just a bad decision as a writer; it's really distracting from an otherwise well-written scene.

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  31. Yeah...I thought "I'm not stupid" would have been a better choice of words...

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  32. You are right... there is no need for it. Just because "everyone does it" doesn't make it right, and certainly doesn't need to be in a book read to kids and meant to encourage respect. My child has a difference difference (dwarfism), and though some people choose to mock her as a "midget", that does not and never will make it right. It is NOT a medical term and is not medically or socially acceptable. It's time things change... even in a book meant to be like "real life". Great post.

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  33. I agree. If the point of the statement of "I'm not retarded!" was in context of a book where a child had been call retarded unfairly or accused of being retarded or something like that, then it would make sense - then it would be advocacy for change of language.
    Wow that was such a convoluted way of agreeing with you. Do you see what I mean though? When it's written in such a flippant way as it has been, then it's definitely not okay. It's backwards progress. Every person has the responsibility to be the change that is necessary in the world and someone like an author with such a huge power, if even more responsible. Or if it was going to be written follow it up with someone telling them that it's not an appropriate word to use.... what I'm really trying to say in a convoluted way, is if an author is going to use the statement "I am not retarded" it should be done in a really powerful way. Like that is an exceptionally powerful statement.
    For example, you don't know me as I am sitting on a computer typing this statement (in another country even), but I do have a neurological disorder. My disorder waxes and wanes so today I am very coherent, and very strong. But some days, I have worsening degrees of my ataxia, aphasia and hemiplegia/hemiparesis. I look highly unintelligent to all people around me. But guess what? I am not retarded. I am not a spazz either. In fact I am not anything but me. I just happen to have some extra labels under my name. Like a fancy professor ;)
    And also? I volunteer in special ed. And some of my kids have global developmental delays. But do you know what else? None of them are retarded. In fact, some of them are the smartest people I have met - just not in a mainstream way. And they have taught me more than any professor or doctor ever, ever could.
    ~Bella (from Australia)

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  34. I completely agree with this post! I just read this book (without knowing anything about it) and it really bothered me and stood out that Auggie used the word retarded. The whole point of the book is to look at others with acceptance, but by using this word, he is just as bad as everyone who treats him differently. He is being insensitive to people with intellectual disabilities just the same way as everyone is insensitive to him because of his physical abnormalities. Maybe it's realistic, but I thought the point of the book was to teach acceptance and empathy. But Auggie is a hypocrite - demanding equal treatment, but not giving it. No, he wasn't talking to a person with an ID, but later in the book, some characters decide it would be insensitive to perform the Elephant Man. He won't even be in the play (it's not even at his school) and it's not directed at him. So we're talking major empathy here, but apparently for only the characters present.

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  35. It seems more pervasive than just the one comment. They repeatedly reinforce that it is appropriate for the child to be in school there because he does not have "special needs" as one parent accuses based on his appearance. The insinuation seems to be that that would be inherently less than, and that since Auggie is cognitively intact, he is good enough to be there.

    Later, another unnecessary insult is used when a 7th grader suggests that Auggie is Jack's boyfriend as a way to put him down. Using gay as an insult is equally offensive. I was sad and uncomfortable hearing my students' reactions to this jab. Not wanting to stop the story's momentum, I waited until later to use it as a teachable moment. But I wish I didn't have to.

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  36. Late to reply, I know. I just finished reading Wonder. I was born with Craniosynostosis. I know other people who have facial disfigurements. It's a shared experience to be presumed that you are "retarded" or "special needs" because you have a facial disfigurement. When I was in elementary school, the "big kids" at the back of the bus joked about me like I was a dog. I was asked if I had half a brain.

    No, the word "retard" is not polite. But, I can understand the author's usage. Time to face the music: kids talk like that. It's an accurate portrayal.

    It is an unfortunate thing, but there are always going to be words in this world that people will use that other people do not like. That does not mean that you have to use or promote such language, and of course you can use opportunities to educate others about the harmful effects certain words may have! But, it is not possible to constantly police others for politically correct language. The term "thought police" comes to mind. Even those with generally good intentions have and will mess up at some point in time...I know I have, and I would have never learned if it wasn't pointed out.

    You are correct, there is a value judgement related to individuals with intellectual disabilities being lesser beings. So why not challenge your students? Don't just tell them: "That's not nice to say, you should use this other word." Ask them age appropriate questions (if you can), about why it is that the society you live in is structured in the way that it is.

    You should be glad that you could use these moments as teachable moments. If these examples hadn't been in the book, how would your students have been able to learn from them?

    AS for the author, herself, the book does need to be read with a grain of salt. She states on her website (
    http://rjpalacio.com/faqs.html)that she spent "a few weeks researching genetics", while it does not indicate whether she developed character perspectives through spending time with individuals diagnosed with Treacher-Collins, or a cleft palate, or their families.

    http://rjpalacio.com/faqs.html

    "few weeks researching genetics", she is quiet as to how she actually came up with character perspectives. Did she even talk to someone with Treacher-Collins Syndrome?

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Thanks for sharing!



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