Today a student came to me with a complaint. Another student has been continually making fun of him for being 'gay'. They have been doing this for awhile. We had a conversation since they really didn’t know what ‘gay’ meant. I understand that while adolescents are learning about themselves, establishing their gender identities and pushing the envelope to explore rules, they also need to understand that there are limits. No child was hurt be the word ‘NO’. Too often I hear students belittling peers by saying, “That ‘retard’!”, sometimes in jest or towards a friend. There is little self-control and little regard for the power of words. They do not understand the power of words used so thoughtlessly.

Gender neutral and politically correct language is ours to create, approve of or disapprove of in schools. Many of our students in the middle school seem to use peers or actors as role models. Big name rappers use gender-biased language, with a flavour for violence and can be aimed at women. Students do not understand that fine line between a playwright making a point and a cutting, hurtful remark delivered electronically or in person. My daughter had a gym teacher who could be overheard dissing a male student for ‘throwing like a girl’. In my daughter’s generation this is now a compliment.

I had to let these kids know that while they would not dare call another student a racial slur, or otherwise make derogatory remarks based on their race, gender or religious affiliation, it is as despicable to mock peers on the basis of their sexual preference. I have been working on these issues, creating an article on Gender Equity back in 1999 and it seems that little has changed since then.

This week our grammar assignment involved determining the gender assigned to a noun. We could choose neutral, masculine, feminine or indefinite. At the end of the assignment, students were required to write a paragraph on how a ‘woman’s position in society has changed in recent history’. This follows a record breaking number of medals earned by Canadian women in Olympic skating and hockey, overshadowed by an inordinate amount of attention showered upon the male hockey team that failed to earn a medal. Much of the air time in various media was devoted to explaining our losses, rather than lauding our exemplary women. At this writing women, in fact, have accounted for 16 of the 22 medals awarded to Canada thus far in the series.

I would hope that educators really listen to themselves and their language. Our students and our children are fragile, as fragile as our high risk students. Please be vigilant and empower our future leaders to ensure that their language matches their beliefs and their values.