January 17, 2014

The 12-Year-Old Who Started It All on the Origins of No Name-Calling Week

I can’t believe it.  It’s been ten years since GLSEN's first No Name-Calling Week!  It’s even longer – thirteen years! – since my friends and I came up with the idea of stopping name-calling in the middle school in our little town of Paintbrush Falls, New York.  We were in the seventh grade when Addie (who is the most outspoken of the four of us) decided we should run for student council on a platform of ending name-calling and bullying.  I came up with our slogan:  “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit.” 

Our idea was modest: just one day a year of nobody calling anybody else a name.

This all happened in the book The Misfits.  If you’ve read it, you may remember that I’m the one who tells the story, but it took all four of us – Addie, Skeezie, Joe, and me – to work together to bring about change.  That’s how it is sometimes:  One person can have an idea, but for the idea to translate into action, a whole community has to get behind it.

The first community to get behind our idea of stopping name-calling was the school community. Individual schools and teachers around the country took it upon themselves to teach The Misfits and find creative ways to get everyone talking about the issues we first raised in our “Forums.”  (You’ll have to read the book to know what those are.)  It was awesome.  We couldn’t believe something that started in our little town was spreading all over the country.

And then something even more amazing happened! 

This organization called GLSEN said, “Hey, we want to do something on a national level to bring attention to name-calling and remind people that kindness is much cooler than bullying.”  That’s how another community came onboard, and with the creation of GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week in 2004, the community got really big. 

Pretty soon, hundreds and then thousands of schools began to participate. 

Sure, there were a few rough spots – like the time in 2005 when No Name-Calling Week, The Misfits, and GLSEN all came under attack for promoting the “gay agenda.”  (My friend Joe, who is gay, says the “gay agenda” is to want the same rights as everybody else, including the right to be safe in school.)  The good thing about that rough spot is that it brought a lot of attention to GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week and before you knew it, even more schools were taking part. 

Name-calling and bullying haven’t gone away.  And cyberbulling, which wasn’t even around when The Misfits was written, has become a real problem.  But because of programs like No Name-Calling Week, communities are paying attention and more and more people think twice before they call someone a name. 

And to think it all started with a group of four misfits in a little made-up town in upstate New York.  Pretty cool.

A lot has changed in the past ten years, but my friends and I are still in the seventh grade.  That’s fiction for you!  The good news is that it’s now a better place to be.

 

James Howe, author of The Misfits, the book that inspired GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, wrote the above piece in the voice of its main character, Bobby Goodspeed. He has since written three more books in the voices of Bobby's friends, Joe, Addie, and Skeezie: Totally Joe, Addie on the Inside, and Also Known as Elvis (April 2014). In 2006, James Howe was honored at the GLSEN Respect Awards.

 

 

 

 

Robert McGarry

About Robert McGarry

Senior Director of Education and Youth Programs

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