The Stupid Speech
I proclaimed “Bullshit” in full-tilt teacher voice as soon as the student finished his sentence. You could have heard a pin drop, had anyone in the class dared to drop anything.
Months later, a student would describe it to me as “that day you lost your temper,” but he was only half right. Genuine anger impelled the speech, but it was entirely calculated. I had seen the moment coming; I selected my words carefully. I had a message to send, and I wanted them to talk about it for as many months afterward as I could muster. I had only been waiting for the comment that would bring it all out into the open.
“You shouldn’t expect us to get this, Mr. Love,” John had said. “We’re just botards.”
botard, [BOE – tahrd] n. (slang) a derogatory term for one who studies vocational
education, suggestive of reduced intelligence. Origin a combination of BOCES
(New York State’s Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which handles
vocational training) and “retard.”
“Bullshit,” I spat. “That is absolute bullshit and it’s an excuse. I don’t care what you plan to do for a living, you are capable of this, and don’t you dare tell yourselves otherwise. Is reading an 18th century essay hard? Yes! But don’t you dare pretend you can’t do it because you go to BOCES. Do you know how much intelligence it takes to fix a car, or cook, or run heavy equipment? I have a Master’s Degree. I couldn’t change the oil in my car to save my life. I could write a lovely poem about it, but I have no clue how to do it. I can’t fix an engine. I can’t blend makeup. I barely recognize any colors that don’t appear in a basic Crayola box. Intelligence comes in a hundred different shapes. I don’t ever want to hear the word “botard” again. The idea that people who get trained in a trade are dumb is bullshit.”
“Jeez Mr. Love, OK,” John said, awkward, surprised smile on his face. (I was glad it was John. I knew he’d roll with it.)
“Not at all mad at you, John,” I added. “It could have just as easily been someone else. But you’re smarter than some people give you credit for, and it pisses me off.”
And then we discussed our excerpt from Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Want people to be smarter?
Stop telling them they’re stupid.