Teaching Opinion

Preventing Classroom Profanity with Peace and Love

By David Ginsburg — September 08, 2010 2 min read
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Have you ever noticed that the more you wear a pet peeve on your sleeve, the more students seem to trigger it? Well, such was the case for me with profanity, which completely bugged the s- - - out of me as a new teacher. And sure enough, the more I reprimanded students for swearing, the more they did it. It was only when I came up with a more proactive, less confrontational approach that I was able to get cursing under control.

So how did I get cursing under control? I started by reflecting on my response to it, which was purely punitive: any time a kid swore, I took disciplinary action. Yet no matter how many calls I made to parents or referrals I sent to the dean (my single-day record was 37!), profanity prevailed. And the more I punished students for it, the more adversarial my relationships with them became. Finally, exasperated by how much time I was spending policing profanity and how ineffective it was, I sought a better approach.

I began by recognizing the difference between students saying “that m.f. is cool” and “you’re a m.f.” Both were unacceptable, but the former was also unhostile. It was often unconscious too---i.e., expressions like, “s- - -, man” and “f- - - in’ cool” were so much a part of students’ vernacular that they often used them without realizing it. And even when they did realize it, they didn’t consider it inappropriate. (No wonder my relationships with them became so adversarial.) And since most cursing in my classroom was unhostile and unconscious, I decided to treat it as teachable moments rather than punishable ones. In short, I needed to raise students’ self-awareness of their language and, in turn, their ability to self-regulate it. And the way I did this was through a simple rule: Any time you’re about to use “f- - -" or “s- - -,” replace it with “peace” or “love” or a derivative thereof.

Pretty crazy, huh? I know, but also remarkably effective---much more so than even I expected. In fact, the very day I introduced this “rule,” students ran with it. And not just any students, but some of the biggest offenders, who really got into calling classmates “mother lovers” or telling me I was “full of peace.”

Better yet, when students slipped up, their classmates---not I---let them know: “you mean peace or love.” Even better, the offenders themselves soon began to acknowledge their slip-ups mid-sentence: “oops, my bad.” Hello self-awareness and self-regulation! And good-bye adversarial relationships!

Are there other ways to prevent profanity in the classroom? Sure. I’ve worked with schools whose zero-tolerance policies have been effective because all staff enforced it and the administration followed through on it. But in some schools, a high incidence of more serious infractions can result in a lack of consistency and/or urgency with respect to less pressing offenses such as profanity. Sound familiar? If so, maybe it’s time for a more peaceful and loving approach.

image by Barnabychambers, provided by Dreamstime license

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