Dropping The F-Bomb In Class? Teachers Weigh In

Nov 3, 2017
Originally published on November 3, 2017 9:41 am

Warning: This post contains language that some may find offensive.

So we asked, and you answered: Is it ever OK for students to curse in the classroom?

The question comes out of our "Raising Kings" series, where a radical new approach in a Washington, D.C., high school has led educators to move beyond suspending students for disruptive behavior, to talking with those kids to learn where the behavior comes from.

Among those behaviors was cursing, and Episode 1 contained a lively discussion about when, and whether, it's ever OK for students to say f*** in class.

On social media and in our post, we asked for your comments and we got hundreds of them.

Many of you, not surprisingly, were not down with this at all.

"This is crazy! Kids need to learn time and place."

- Sam Shields, Houston teacher

"I'm a retired teacher. I'd say no but young teachers have a different view. Think the work place has changed too."

- Marsha Wilkins, retired Virginia teacher

"Not OK, as teachers our job is to teach what's appropriate in considerate, professional situation. A classroom should be this place. Express appropriately!"

- Lynette Rosen, Illinois teacher

"No. That word does not belong in the classroom."

- Carl Swanson, California education administrator

While others were more accepting.

"I teach high school in Baltimore. I don't have time to discipline each foul word I hear; I would end up never teaching anything. I will, however, address the language by saying something like, "I'm right here, think about who is around you before you use profanities." More often than not, I get an apology and we move on. Targeted language is different and will result in a call home and referral to a dean who handles discipline issues with restorative justice."

- Leigh DeLong Caputo, Baltimore teacher

Other liked the approach adopted by the teacher at Ron Brown College Prep: turning cursing into compliments:

"I will try this. I never did send a student out for cursing. I always tend to emphasize respect & self control & we aren't always perfect. Usually given the chance to calm themselves down without threats to send to the office or write up, they usually self correct. I love the redirection of giving a compliment, totally switches the thought process!!"

- Mara Littrell, Idaho teacher

And we heard lots of other suggestions:

"Instead of writing a student up for swearing, I require my students to "pick up 4" pieces of garbage when they say a swear word."

- Geoff La Brant, Washington state teacher

"I was a teacher/counselor in a disciplinary alternative school and a counselor in a men's prison. Instead of the f-word, I required students to use "boink". Lots of laughter was usually the result, and the problem was resolved."

- Peggy Kennedy, retired Kentucky teacher

"My mom, a teacher, used to teach Shakespearean curse words. If a kid wanted to cut loose, he had to be Elizabethan about it. It diffused tension and made the kids laugh."

- Kate Barsotti, Missouri

Editor's note: among them are: "A three-inch fool," a "poisonous bunch-backed toad!" and "by my gammer's withered leg!"

But over and over, the theme of the responses was that, when it comes to cursing, it's all about context.

"Although I would never prefer it, if a student needed to use a f bomb to express a legitimate idea, I would let it slide. Context is everything. Vulgarity shouldn't be gratuitous, but infrequent use to drive a point home may be entirely appropriate."

- Kip Warr, Missouri educator

"It comes down to context- a quiet profanity at your desk over an annoyance like when your pencil snaps for the third time is no big deal. Swearing at me or a classmate is a big deal."

- Diana Fliginger, North Dakota teacher

So, thanks for those responses. Now, here's another question for you: When was the first time you ever cursed in front of your students? We'd love to hear that story. Email us: npred@npr.org

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