Those of you who follow me on FB know that I have been on this kick for the past few weeks about profanity use among Junior High students. I had many comments from friends who seem to share my concern and several shared good ideas of how to engage in this battle against profanity. I realize the nation as a whole has a “potty mouth” problem, but I am realistic in acknowledging that my efforts are best used working towards change at a local level, rather than taking on the nation as a whole 🙂 The following letter is my effort to do just that. Shared here is only the first 2/3 or the letter, as there is more I want to say. But, before I finish the letter I was hoping to get some feedback from friends and family who have opinions on this subject, and especially from those of you who work or have worked in the field of education. My thoughts as to how to finish the letter are tying in the “anti-bullying” and “say no to drugs” campaigns that are already a helpful part of the culture of the school district, to point out that things can improve if extra emphasis is given to a certain problem within a school context. I also want to give some solid suggestions of a student led “clean language club” or “hear something, say something” type of system, or finding a way to award those who are known for speaking with respect and standing up to those who have “potty mouths”. Ok, I will admit it…I am just trying to create an award that my boys can win. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Here is what I have so far for my letter which I intend to send to the Principal and District Superintendant. I would be very happy to get feedback from any of you who are so inclined to share some with me. You can leave comments on here, or add them to my facebook page, or send me an email message at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear District 200 Superintendant, and to the Principal and Assistant Principal at Creekside Middle school,
Since we just completed the first quarter of this school year, I thought this might be a fitting time to give a parent progress report to the teachers and administrators of Creekside middle school. I have been wanting to write this letter for quite some time, and this seemed to be the right opportunity to share my thoughts on some concerns we have had about the school experience our boys are having. Being new to the city of Woodstock, there have been some struggles in the transition as is expected at this stage of life for our family. The teachers have been great overall at helping our boys to know what is expected and encouraging them to strive for academic excellence. The music programs are the highlight of their Creekside school experience so far. The band and orchestra teachers have both provided valuable mentoring and for our 8th grade percussionist and 6th grade cello player. The social transition to attending Creekside has been the most challenging for our boys, which was unexpected to us since they have always been well liked, easy going kids who get along well with others. They have each found a few friends, however, they still express discouragement at not being able to find others who share their values. From what they tell me, they feel like they are in the minority as boys who do not use profanity. Of course, they experienced some swearing in their schools in Missouri, but the contrast of how much more of it they are unwillingly exposed to here has been stark. This is the main purpose of my letter today. It seems the “culture” between the students within this school is one where derogatory remarks and foul language are the norm among the students rather than the exception.
Since my boys have decided they do not want to adopt the habit of using profanity, they are discouraged by the excess vulgarity they hear on a daily basis in the hallways, lunchroom and especially in the PE locker room during the five minutes while changing. I realize the teachers can not be in the locker room area while the kids are changing. However, with concentrated effort from teachers and school admin, there should be some way to connect the expectations (already outlined in the CMSPH) with the daily student experience of a “positive school environment”(p. 17) where profanity is the exception, not the norm. For example, my 8th grader reports hearing the “F” word dozens of times shouted out by multiple boys on a daily basis who seem to think the locker room is a “safe” place for them to holler out the most extreme profanity including playfully calling each other Niggers. It makes me cringe even to type that word, so why so many students think it is ok to playfully use such a racially charged word is amazing to me. I know much of it has to do with the entertainment culture which is unfiltered by many parents. It is also likely that many parents model the use of vulgar language at home, without any adverse response when their children begin using it. I do believe in freedom of speech, however, there traditionally have been implied “norms” in school or business settings that dictate refraining from the use of degrading profanity in civilized society.
At this point in this letter, you are likely thinking, “wow, we have quite the complaining mom on our hands here.” I do hope that the points I am making are shifting your thoughts to concern for the students within your school and how we collectively might improve the problem I have outlined here. You will be glad to know I am not only dwelling on the problems, but I have spent time researching a few ideas that might improve the “vocabulary deficiency” within our school. I reached out to friends and family across the country on Facebook to hear about what kind of experiences their middle schoolers were having related to language as a part of my research. I will be refering to the comments I got back from friends multiple times in the remainder of this letter. One suggestion I received from a friend out in Arizona was to suggest what their middle school does which is to go to a silent locker room policy. There had been too many reports of foul language in the locker room, so the PE teachers with the support of the school administration team decided to implement this policy. The directive is to, “Go in the locker room, change quickly and quietly, and don’t talk until you get outside the locker room.” The first time it was violated (by one person) the entire class had to do 30 pushups. That was the last time it was violated in the 3 months my 7th grader nephew has been in school this year. To me, this sounds like a good alternative worth considering in this district to help control the vulgar and profane language that daily occurs in the locker room, where all students have not choice but to hear it. A great quote I found on “Goodreads” website during my research on this topic is as follows:
“I think the reason that swearing is both offensive and so attractive is that is is a way to punch people’s emotional buttons. This is beacuse words soak up emotional connotations and are processed involuntarily by the listener.” (Stephen Pinker, Goodreads)
Before I go any further, let me point out again my intent in writing this. I anticipate the initial reaction to reading this might be, “We have way bigger fish to fry lady! If we can keep these kids from physically harming themselves or others we are doing well” or perhaps this, “If the parents let them swear at home, (which many of them do) then we have no chance of convincing them to stop.” or the response I got when I talked with Mrs. Martin about this end of last school year, “We do try Mrs. Anderson, but the teachers are so outnumbered that it is very difficult to enforce rules related to language. Also, the kids are very clever at hiding their bad language from teachers.” I am well aware that the worldwide lack of civility is not going to be solved from the town of Woodstock, IL. However, I do believe in the potential of the youth today as the hope of the future who can change this world for the better. The ability to influence the world for good begins with education. Education requires expectations, and in regards to language- teachers, administrators and parents need to set higher expectations for our youth. In your handbook (CMSPH), the expectations of the school are outlined for the students including “self discipline and respect for others.” I believe that your students can rise to this challenge and improve the culture of this school to make it a place where well-mannered, kind, hard-working boys like mine can feel welcome.
George Washington once stated, “The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that it is despised by people of character.”
I know from reading your handbook , that this school district desires to help create people of character through the process of education.
As students are “allowed” in the lunchroom, the hallways and the locker rooms to use “gutter talk”, without fear of discipline, we are doing them a dis-service by delaying their maturation process.
“All members of the CMS community share in the responsibility for creating a positive school climate. Our primary goal is to guide students through a variety of exciting and challenging experiences in a SAFE environment that encourages students to achieve success. Students are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects positively on themselves, their parents and the school and to respect the rights, feelings and property of others…”(p. 17 CMSPH)
Within that small portion of the Code of Conduct section of the hanbook, there are several applicable points. (positive school climate, safe environment, respect others) Here is another personal example to help explain why our experience in this school has led me to take this topic on as a cause in which I can help make a difference. My 8th grade son started last January as 7th grader at Creekside. After the first few days, he was completely discouraged with the language he was hearing around him, including that of the boys who were assigned to be his “welcome committee” that he was assigned to shadow. When I spoke with the front office person on the third day of school about my son’s concern, the response was, “What to do you expect, this is Junior High?” This was our first week at your school, and this was the response that gave us our first impression. That response did not match at all with what we had read in the handbook about the values and expectations of the school. It sounded to me more like resignation that this is a battle not worth fighting. I am persistent enough to not give up after that interactions, so I set up a time to meet with Mrs. Martin. I was pleased after speaking with Mrs. Martin about the same issue, action was taken. She spoke with the boys involved about it that day, and their language improved. That showed me that if the expectation is clearly set by those in authority for the students to “behave responsibly and treat others with respect” then the students will “recognize and accept the outcomes of their behavior” leading them to “demonstrate good citizenship in the school, home and community” (all quotes here taken from page 18 under the section of All School Expectations)
TO BE CONTINUED -Jeanie Anderson (Comments welcome)