Here’s an old PSA on bullying and disabilities that might shame you into long-delayed contrition
When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, can’t remember which, our science class had a unit where we learned about the rudiments of weather. A component of that was doing our own weather reports, where the teacher would videotape us doing the typical evening news forecast (against construction paper backdrops, with angry clouds and happy suns, you get the picture), and then we’d watch all of us doing the schtick and have a good laugh. Get the kids up and involved, enhance the learning, that sort of thing.
Well, there was one kid in our class – we’ll call him Justin – who had a bad stutter. BAD bad. Spitting, choking on words, the whole gamut, and you can imagine the infantile teasing that accompanied it. Well, he had to do the tape thing too — I suppose including him was better than ostracizing him, though hindsight, as we shall see, would disagree. Anyway, everyone’s snickering was suppressed as Justin muddled through his minute on high pressure systems and cold fronts, but when his turn came in the playback, all hell broke loose. I’ve probably never laughed as hard and my life as I did when he made his odd upward whirring sound while trying to force out words (I can still hear it), and the whole classroom suddenly looked like the church scene in The Blues Brothers. It was like being on video had distilled what was a casual source of teasing and distilled it into a 150 proof bottle of mockery. Desks were pounded, knees were slapped, and no one was in control of their body’s convulsions. The worst: I remember looking over at the teacher and seeing him with his face buried in his hands, covering up the fact that he was laughing too. He was a nice guy, but being in a roomful of chortling kids was too much for him. And, God help me, it was a contagious burst. Believe me, this video was the sort of thing that, twenty years later, would have had a billion views on YouTube.
Justin ran out of the classroom, crying from his humiliation. And I still feel ashamed of laughing like I did. Because guess what: I used to stutter. Not as bad as Justin’s, and it was something I overcame in my early grade-school years (mainly through a Porky Piggish selection of alternate words), but I understood what it was like to know what you want to say and not be able to say it. Yet there I was, laughing like a hyena, like all the rest.
I’ve dismissed and gently mocked some of the National Social Welfare Assembly’s dopier PSAs, but the one above (despite its vague “I’m a bad artist” disability — could it have something to do with his odd head?) hits home. I feel like I’ve just had my knuckles rapped with a ruler from the distant past. Wherever you are, Justin, I’m sorry.