A Poetic Finale
As someone once said, "Words mean things." Young people are sensitive to the power of words. Adults build up a tolerance to harsh language. Though cruel words can still hurt an adult, a child is inherently vulnerable to names, taunts, and teasing. In a poem like "Words That Hurt," a student can express his or her understanding of pain caused, not by physical torture, but by ethereal, intangible words. The most obvious sign that a group has been marginalized is the group's label. Sometimes that label is not even derogatory in origin, but acquires pejorative qualities when used by an oppressor. In "Words That Hurt," one of the hurtful words is "Jew."
The author of the poem displays an understanding of how dehumanization begins with words, labels, and categories. Writing poetry allows students to show off—to use the words of Howard Gardner—their interpersonal intelligence. Interpersonal intelligence goes hand in hand with empathy. A lack of empathy is the first prerequisite for genocidal events like the Holocaust.