Teacher responds to issue of profanity in schools
To the editor:
This is a response to Wayne Ruman’s “Open letter to all Copley-Fairlawn teachers” printed in the Sept. 7-13 edition of the West Side Leader.
I am no longer teaching at Copley-Fairlawn, so your letter was probably not intended for me. However, as your complaints refer to the 2005-06 school year, while I was teaching at Copley-Fairlawn, I offer the following:
One of the pleasures of teaching at Copley High School is the reaction of adult visitors. Most visitors comment on the positive atmosphere of the school, the orderliness of the classrooms and the politeness of the students. But where does this positive attitude come from? Teachers can’t regulate and punish their way into such a positive atmosphere. Instead, it has to be modeled and taught. Copley has such a positive atmosphere because teachers and students work together to make it that way.
I suggest that the same is true in dealing with profanity. Punishments have their place as an (unfortunate) last resort, but the real solution to profanity lies in education. If we try to regulate and punish our way into the elimination of profanity, students simply learn to avoid being caught on the one hand and to rebel against heavy-handed tactics on the other. Such tactics may change student behavior in the presence of school officials, but “getting tough” will not change students’ minds. I have a higher goal for our students. Rather than learning to comply when I am watching, I want them to become the kind of caring people who avoid unnecessarily offending others. To encourage students to grow in this way, we have to work with them in the hallways, in the classrooms and on the athletic fields, rather than do things to them.
Yet your remarks at the meeting lead me to believe that you advocate a “zero tolerance” policy with respect to profanity. You object to profanity in a school musical (I assume you mean “Grease”), a classroom handout and a video played in class. I hope you understand the implications of your complaints. Shall we prohibit the staging of Shakespeare’s Macbeth because of its offensive language? (“Out, out, d—- spot!”) No more Fitzgerald in English class? No more Mark Twain?
“Zero tolerance” is neither practical nor constructive. Students need to learn productive responses to profanity, as well as the motives for its use and possibly its history. In short, students need wisdom, not prohibition. Let’s teach our students rather than initiate an ineffective crack-down.
Paul Wendel, Copley