Dealing with Profanity in the Classroom – No

On any campus, one listening to the conversations of students will often be offended by the use of profanity contained therein. Students drop “F Bombs” among themselves, blasting their friends and anybody within earshot with fecal references, and generally cursing up a storm. The use of Christ’s name, like the “F Bomb,” takes different connotations based primarily on the context and inflection of the term.

The use of expletives is primarily driven by the lack of a specific term to express the emotional response that the student is having. Interjections, marked by the exclamation point that follows immediately after, are sudden verbal outbursts of emotion. A student’s choice of exclamation reflects on those he or she hears most often. In this sense, if a child’s parent is constantly using “Jesus Christ!” as a verbal expression of surprise, excitement, disgust, or all three, the student will likely do the same. After all, it’s not the “F Bomb,” which nearly all students know is improper among proper society.

When we, as educators of our youth, begin singling out words as “inappropriate” or “profane,” it gives an unintended incentive for the rebellious adolescent to use those words. The quickest way to increase the popularity of any idea is to make it against the rules. Teachers who broadcast their intolerance of any concept inadvertently invite a challenge from all students who thrive on the conflict.

Insubordination in the classroom is the issue at hand. Much like the athlete who argues the call of an umpire, making public a negative opinion with the sole purpose of undermining the authority of the recipient is cause for quick action. It does not matter which words a student uses, but the student’s intention, inflection, and direction of the comment mean everything. While using Jesus’ name in vain might be offensive to the minority, insubordination offends the majority.

When we address the issue driving the exclamation – whatever perceived injustice the student has suffered – we get past our personal issues and address the issues of the students we teach. Instead of “I’m offended!” we offer “How has this offended you?” Then a dialogue is opened, the student is heard, and for once he or she feels empowered. This gives the educator an avenue to teach students to express their opinions appropriately, to the proper audience, and in the proper tone. Why else do we teach them to formulate a thesis, provide supporting evidence, and use specific language to address the audience?

We are, after all, in the business of teaching our youth about the rules of society, not forcing compliance with rules we cannot conceivably enforce.