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What's the correct response to offensive name calling?

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by Thelastchancesaloon, Jun 20, 2012.

  1. I usually tell pupils if I overhear them using 'gay' as a pejorative, that it isn't appropriate and for all they know there could be someone in that very room who may be unsure of their sexuality, or who has a relative or friend who is gay, so it would be distressing to hear that kind of talk. I sometimes get arrogant, loud-mouthed boys trying it on with comments deliberately trying to provoke controversy - I simply point out that after many years working for the police, I can assure them that calling someone homophobic (or indeed disability-related) names, constitutes a 'hate-crime' and that if ANYONE (it doesn't have to be the person being called the name) chooses to report this to the police - or to the school body, then they are duty-bound to record and fully investigate it as such, which could even lead to a caution or worse! That usually nips it in the bud within the classroom and I've used it as a discussion point, to encourage empathy - God knows how insular and self-centred teenagers usually are!
  2. Ruthie66

    Ruthie66 New commenter

    This sort of name calling has been on the increase by a particular year group in our school - they had a special assembly where they were reminded of the rules, the impact they have on others and some of the stuff they covered in disability awareness in Personal Development. If it continues then the usual behaviour sanctions will be applied.
  3. Initially, I give them the benefit of the doubt and educate them on the origins of the words and how they could be taken to be offensive.
    I've managed to horrify one class out of doing it by pointing out that they wouldn't call someone the N word as an insult (obviously, need to know the class to work out if they WOULD! Thankfully, this was just a thoughtless class, not intolerant!) Got the message across quite quickly!
    Another trickier group used more overtly homophobic language and they stayed in for a chat about how, "I know you guys wouldn't dream of being homophobic but the language you use doesn't paint a good picture of yourselves. I know you but others don't and if they hear you using such phrases, all they'll think of you is that you're narrow-minded and biggotted; or worse, what if you use that language in the pub one day, because you're so in the habit of it? You don't know who could overhear- the guy who you've got an interview with the next day, your new partner's parents, or someone who decides the best way of getting you to not say that sort of thing is a punch..."
    It stopped after that but I think I would then have escalated it up as genuinely homophobic language if it had continued. (I did have one lad who found it hard to break the habit- but he'd turn red and apologise- I knew he was TRYING and he did eventually stop.)

    Same tactics could be used for other offensive name calling.
  4. I went to some excellent training with "Show Racism the Red Card" where they used something called the "pyramid of hate" to show how not challenging this use of language can sow seeds for much more extreme behaviour in some individuals. One useful strategy I've used with young people to counter the whole "I didn't mean homosexual, I just meant it was stupid" argument is to say "Ok, your name is Jason. How would you feel if everytime someone wanted to say something was rubbish or uncool they said "Ugh, that's so Jason". Then ask them to consider how it would feel if a description of their sexuality was used to describe anything that's not good. It just makes the point in a different way and seemed to be through to some challenging lads.
  5. I normally say something along the lines of, "I'm sure you don't mean to offend anyone, but the most recent research says that approximately one in ten people are gay. That means that there are probably two or three people in this classroom who, right now, are being made to feel bad by your use of 'gay' to mean '****'. If you carry on, then I'm going to have to assume that you're doing it deliberately to offend people, in which case, I'll treat it in the same way I would treat any other offensive language in my classroom."

    Once they've got over the "Sir said '****'!" reaction, and looked around the room, trying to spot the "gays", they tend to take it on board. They've been given a reasonable explanation as to why it's unacceptable, without being made to feel like a terrible person, and they've been informed about how things will roll out if they don't reign it in. That way, there's as little confrontation as possible, a little bit of education, and a setting of expectations.

    It has worked well with a number of groups.
  6. My only issue with this is that it implies it's okay to use "gay" when they're in a group of heterosexual people.
  7. Tom_Bennett

    Tom_Bennett Occasional commenter

    We can only ever govern their personal behaviour. Much as we might wish to be masters of their minds and hearts, we are not, nor do we have that right. I tell all the children in my care that I care very much about their well being, which means no hostility, cruelty or treating others without manners or dignity. The ontological hinterland inside their heads is beyond my jurisdiction.
    So if any of them express any ism that contradicts these axioms, I come down on them like an express train. That teaches them to treat others with consideration. By modelling this behaviour myself, I show them what it looks like. And I show them the benefits of acting sociably.
    Read more from Tom here on his blog, or
    follow him. His latest book, Teacher, is out this month, published by Continuum/ Bloomsbury

  8. I can see why it could be misinterpreted that way - I'll need to rethink my phrasing. On the other hand, if they were saying "gay" to mean "****" in a group of heterosexuals, it could hardly be considered as DELIBERATELY offensive, so I suppose it would at least lack the mens rea. Not that that makes it acceptable, of course.
  9. Interesting how all the brow-beating responses to this thread are related to the term 'gay', and none to the OP's citing of 'spaz' as an equally damaging derogatory term...
    Any kid who has the slightest physical difference (thick glasses, or lanky, or fat, or poor co-ordination), or is a tiny bit geeky (what! you go to science club!), or actually wants to get housepoints/merits/credits is demonised in most modern secondary schools. What are we doing about this? It is just as unreasonable as the use of the term 'gay' for anything not considered as 'cool'.
    These kids deserve the same level of moral outrage at their unwarranted ridicule as any having a particular sexual orientation. I never did meet a single gay pupil who was really offended at being called 'gay'. Can't say the same for the 'spazzers'...
  10. I think because I've heard a LOT of teachers picking up on "downie" as an insult but letting "gay" slide as "banter". In my experience, discrimination is hauled up and dealt with- except the issue of "gay". Maybe that's just the schools I've been in. But yes, I agree, ANY term of discrimination needs to be dealt with. Most of it is educating them to think before they speak- not tackling actual bigotry (I really have been lucky!)
    Perhaps not, but I know lots who take offense at the fact it's used as a negative term.
  11. Bad behaviour will happen in school because schools tolerate it and have no effective sanctions against them or the will/ competence to deal with them. There needs to be a whole school initiative where it is made clear that this is the rule, what will not be tolerated and anyone who uses the phrases will face an immediate sanction... and then it needs to be enforced by EVERY member of staff at ALL times. The sanction should also be a deterrent, otherwise it is a waste of time - immediate isolation for the day or whatever it is used in the school. The key is effective and consistent implementation of the rules.
  12. I certainly found that the commonplace use of "gay" to describe something negative made it much, much harder for me to come out. I never did while I was in school, actually. It is very offensive to me even now, and very damaging to young gay people growing up.
  13. cheesypop

    cheesypop Senior commenter

    child - 'this chair / desk / pencil is gay'.
    me - 'how do you know?'
    child - 'what do you mean?'
    me - 'how do you know whether the chair / desk / pencil fancies boys or girls?'
    child - 'i didn't mean gay like that'.
    me - 'oh, you meant happy? how do you know the chair / desk / pencil is happy?'
    child - 'i didn't mean it like that either'.
    me - 'then don't say it'.
    it doesn't, I agree, address the underlying issues but I have found that it effectively shuts a group up and can then be followed up later with a longer talk.
    as for 'spaz' - I have found that they do actually know this is wrong and are embarrassed when pulled up on it.

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