TOUCHED BY LYME: NEA’s “teachable moment” ends in apology–sort of
This morning, I (and a whole lot of others on social media) took offense at recent comments by the president of the National Education Association. In a widely shared YouTube video, NEA leader Lily Eskelsen García made the following statement, as part of a “playful” list of everything teachers are required to do.
“We diversify our curriculum instruction to meet the personal individual needs of all of our students, the blind, the hearing impaired, the physically challenged, the gifted and talented, the chronically tarded and the medically annoying.”
Before I wrote my blog, I replayed the YouTube video several times over, listening carefully. Did she really say “chronically tarded and medically annoying”? To my ears, she did. (You can read my previous blog about it here.)
Well, as you might imagine, comments against her statements lit up social media today, and Ms. Garcia has now issued an apology. It says in part:
In my attempt to be clever and funny, I stepped on a word in one phrase, and I created another phrase that I believed was funny, but was insulting. I apologize.
As she explains in a new YouTube video, she meant to say “chronically tardy,” not “tarded.” Okay. I’ll give her that one. She was talking fast, and the word just came out wrong. Now, on to the rest of her explanation.
As to the second phrase, I did say “medically annoying.” I apologize for my choice of words. Let me be clear: I was not referring to students who are ill or medically fragile. I was referring to the student who, for example, has an argument with his girlfriend and now is having a very bad day, and doing everything humanly possible to annoy the teacher. What we do in our classrooms and how we adjust must take these students into consideration, too.
Wow. That’s a stretch. The word “medically” shouldn’t be interpreted to refer to those who are ill or medically fragile. It’s supposed to mean that someone is having a bad day and thus annoying his teacher.
(Ms. Garcia used to be a school teacher. I wonder if she and her students ever read “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll, from which the following is quoted: “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ”)
She continues: This has been a teachable moment for me, and I hope students will learn from my error, too. We all should be more careful before we speak, slow down and make sure our points are well articulated and fully understood. The bottom line is, I screwed up and I apologize. Please judge me by my heart, not by my mistakes.
I think that part of the “teachable moment” is not just that this one person made an egregiously poor choice of words. The “teachable moment” also includes why those words hit such a sore spot with parents of children with medical issues.
Often, such parents feel that school authorities do not understand their child’s needs or what their families are going through. Sometimes they feel that school personnel don’t even speak the same language they do. (Kind of like people who use the word “medical” to mean “non-medical”….)
I plan to send Ms. Garcia a free copy of When Your Child Has Lyme Disease: A Parent’s Survival Guide, with the strong recommendation that she read the two chapters about education. Maybe if she had a clearer idea of what families with medical issues go through, she’ll be able to use her position of authority to help them instead of making them feel like she’s making bad jokes at their expense.
You can read her apology here and view her second YouTube video below.
TOUCHED BY LYME is written by Dorothy Kupcha Leland, LymeDisease.org’s VP for Education and Outreach. She is co-author of When Your Child Has Lyme Disease: A Parent’s Survival Guide. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, she’s @dorothyleland.