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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

No Name Calling Week

By Peter DeWitt — January 21, 2012 5 min read
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No Name Calling Week is about so much more than just name calling. It’s about what name calling symbolizes.

It’s pretty common for kids to call each other names. If you ever grew up with siblings, you probably got into a few fights with your brothers or sisters and called them a few names during the confrontation. When anger and frustration hit, it’s pretty easy to slip a few bad words into the equation. After a fight with a sibling, the first thing your parents probably had you do was apologize for calling them names. Maybe you felt badly or maybe you didn’t, but you most likely followed the direction and apologized.

What’s the big deal with calling people names? We all have freedom of speech so part of that speech includes calling people names; especially people we don’t like. What has happened to the good old days when a person could call someone a name or be called a name and take it? Have we turned soft? What is happening to our society? Are we becoming too politically correct?

The reality is that name calling shouldn’t happen, and although it is a part of adolescent development to do so, it could also be a part of that same development to learn not to do so. Name calling, when done to someone who has low self-esteem or internal struggles that the name caller cannot see, could become another reason to become disconnected from their community. Even worse, if it happens too often that person can become disconnected from their own life.

During the week of January 23rd - 27th, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is sponsoring a No Name Calling Week. Some teachers and administrators will not want to participate because it’s sponsored by an LGBT organization and those teachers and administrators either do not agree with the LGBT community, or they’re afraid of the pushback they’ll receive from their own school community.

In a recent story entitled Homophobia Starts in School; Teachers Do Little by Susan Donaldson James for ABCnews.com to help focus on GLSEN’s Ready, Set, Respect Kit for elementary schools, research says that there is a great deal of homophobia in schools and teachers and administrators do very little about it. No Name Calling Week is one way for schools to show that they do not allow homophobia.

However, No Name Calling Week is about so much more than LGBT students. Name calling, when done maliciously, is directed toward kids of different shapes and sizes, racial and economic backgrounds, and can be mean spirited in such a way that the students being called the names become disconnected from the world around them. Name calling and low self-esteem creates a perfect storm for students and can have an effect on them for the rest of their lives.

No Name Calling Week is about so much more than just name calling. It’s about what name calling symbolizes. Name calling can be biased and bigoted and is often where bullying and cyber-bullying begin. What once started as a bad name can easily become physical and turn into a daily attacks on someone who cannot defend themself. Most bullying starts out as simple name calling.

Name Calling to Bullying
Bullied, a documentary sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center is a story about Jamie Nabozny. When Jaime was in seventh grade in a school in a small town in Minnesota Jamie was bullied by several peers because he was gay. It began with names and turned to punching and kicking. He suffered so much harassment and abuse by his peers that he ran away. His parents worked hard to get the school system to put an end to the bullying that Jamie suffered. The school system put more blame on Jamie than on the students who bullied him.

Jamie went back to high school and was bullied again. After running away one more time, Jamie mustered the courage to go to school, which resulted in him getting beaten so badly he had to stay in the hospital for five days. Jamie’s parents pleaded for help from school administration and teachers because the abuse had been going on for years and the adults knew about it.

Unfortunately, the school administrators did nothing about it. After trying different avenues to end the bullying, Jamie and his parents took the school system to court. Ultimately, Jamie sued the school system and won the landmark case. He and his family were awarded $900,000.00 and presently Jamie speaks to schools around the country about his situation.

In an interview with Jamie, he was asked how the adults contributed to the bullying that he endured. “The adults in failing to address my complaints of harassment not only allowed it to continue but they also were the reason it escalated and became more and more violent. Harassment and Bullying cannot be tolerated from anyone in a school. It doesn’t matter who is the person doing the harassment or who the victim is. Staff members shouldn’t be given a free pass to show bigotry or to just be plain mean. Everyone should be committed to a respectful environment.”

In the End
When we think of name calling we look back on the days of arguments with or siblings or squabbles with our friends. The reality is that name calling can be so much more to kids who suffer from low self-esteem. It can add to the reasons why they think they will never be loved by someone, and if they happen to live in a home with a parent who calls them names like “lazy” or something worse, it can be yet one more reason not to do anything special with their life.

Kids need to learn that name calling isn’t acceptable in schools, especially when it is done with malicious intent. As much as some critics may give reasons why we should just accept name calling and move on, there are many more reasons why there is no place for it. It’s as easy to not call someone a name as it is to call them one.

In the end, Jamie offers a few great suggestions for students. “I always give three pieces of advice to students being bullied. 1) You are not alone. At times it is very lonely, but you must always remember there are so many others who know how you feel. 2) You have an absolute right to be safe in school. My case established that right and schools must obey the law. 3) The harassment has everything to do with the person doing the harassment and is not about you. They have the problem. Never believe the things they tell you, you are exactly who you are supposed to be.”

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Bullied: A Student and a Case that Made History (2010). Teaching Tolerance. The Southern Poverty Law Center. DeWitt, Peter (2012) Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. Corwin Press. James, Susan Donaldson (2012). Homophobia Starts in Elementary School: Teachers Do Little. ABCnews.com.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.