A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Heh. Tell me something I DON'T know...

This caught my eye, and teachers everywhere are rolling their eyes that this is news. However, also note the statements I have boldfaced:

Adolescents and preteens are swearing more publicly than ever — especially at school, experts say.

It's conversational swearing — in the hallways and in the classroom — that is on the rise, says Timothy Jay, one of the leading scholars on cursing in the United States.

Teens are more likely to drop casual expletives, or "fillers," than the generation before them and have more trouble adjusting their conversation to fit their audience. That means adults — especially strangers who cannot sanction the teens — hear more of the same language that the teens' friends hear, says Jay, author of "Why We Curse" and "Cursing in America."

He estimates that the average adolescent uses roughly 80 to 90 swear words a day.

"Elementary school teachers report that children are using more offensive language at school than they have in the past," says Jay, who is compiling data for a study he will complete in the fall examining preteens and swearing. "They have been breaking the rules at school more frequently in the last 10 years."

Jay, a psychology professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Mass., has been studying swearing trends since the 1970s.

"Our language values are shifting, and it's just different, not better or worse," he says.

At R.W. Emerson Junior High School in Davis, seventh-grader Kaley McGrew, 13, hears peers using curses as fillers when they can't think of another way to express themselves.

"Some people swear, and they don't even think about what they are doing; they just say it," she says. "It's just become casual to them, but to some people who don't swear, it can be shocking."

The Emily Post Institute's Cindy Post Senning, co-author of "Teen Manners: From Malls to Meals to Messaging and Beyond," recommends talking to adolescents about the public image they want to convey through language.

"Some people use swear words with friends and nobody is offended," says the etiquette expert. "The problem is that it becomes a habit and it can offend unintended listeners."

Post Senning suggests working on helping teens control their profanity rather than disciplining them for using it. And evidence supports her idea: In a 2006 study conducted by Jay, 94 percent of people who reported being punished for cursing continued to swear.

Cursing is a behavior learned from family members, according to Jay.

"It starts as soon as they learn how to talk," Jay says. "At a young age, they're attentive to emotions. When you're swearing to be funny or when you're angry, that just draws them right to it."

Jay said that although the Internet, television and other media may be making adolescents more comfortable with swearing, it is their parents' own language habits that are the biggest influence.

The solution, says Jay, is for parents to teach the etiquette of swearing.

"Kids should know about the power of language," Michael Leahy, a counselor at Emerson Junior High, agreed. "Parents should remind them about how important words can be and when you should use them."

Okay. First of all, how is it NOT worse for kids to regularly use the "B" word, the "C" word, the other "B" word,the "A" word, the "F" word, the "N" word, the "MF" word and the slew of other words I am too tired from hearing in the hallways today? Jeez, the fact that we are afraid to say that ANYTHING is wrong is how we got in this place to begin with. Moral relativism leads to moral vacuity.

Second of all, the second comment reminds me of the time I called home to a parent to talk about his child's constant use of profanity, and the man responded profanely with a promise to beat a certain part of his daughter's anatomy. I nearly choked from the irony of it all.

Third, it just cracks me up to think of the phrase, "the etiquette of swearing." It just sounds like a complete oxymoron, even though I understand what the point of that comment was. However, as a parent, I really want to emphasize when NOT to curse, rather than to discuss when it is permissible. I think there's quite a bit of difference between the two things.

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At 2/26/08, 8:46 PM, Blogger Mister Teacher said...

Effin' A!!

At 2/27/08, 10:37 AM, Anonymous ricki said...

What I don't get is the attitude that those of us who are offended by hearing this kind of stuff day in and day out just need to shut up and take it, because it's their "right" to express themselves in this way. Or that we're dinosaurish fuddy-duddies who just need to get with the times.

What about my right not to have my ears assaulted on a regular basis?

I wonder what would happen if one of these kids walked into a job interview, dropped an f-bomb, and didn't get the job, in part because of it? One thing we may have a duty to teach - since it seems some parents won't - is that there still ARE places where that kind of language is not appropriate.

At 2/27/08, 6:22 PM, Blogger Rita said...

I usually spend the first couple of weeks of school writing detention referrals for language in my classes; for the rest of the year, they are pristine little darlings. They even apologize to me if they cuss when I walk by them in the hall. To imply that they aren't capable of turning it off and on is absurd and insulting, I think. I know they're cursing up a blue streak when they're not in my room, but at least they know that there are inappropriate situations and that they CAN adjust for them.

At 3/1/08, 5:45 PM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

"Moral relativism leads to moral vacuity."

It also leads to moral anarchy--and I, for one, am weary of the lawless little darlings who assault my ears all day with derogatory references to the deity.



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