As a Professor of Education, I have the privilege of visiting many schools in my area, usually while supervising student teachers. The most recent high school I visited caused me some heartache! Granted, I realize it is almost the end of the year so that may be why, but wow…what I witnessed in the hallway between classes was discouraging.
Let me share this story. While I was visiting with a teacher, the bell rang. This young teacher stood up and headed to the hallway. I joined in by standing outside the door with the teacher. Looking up and down the hall, I did not see any other teachers outside their doors. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there, I just didn’t see any. I asked this teacher if all teachers were expected to stand out in the hallway during this 3-4 minutes passing time. The answer I expected…YES!
When two boys came around a corner, I saw one of them punch the other in the stomach. The hit wasn’t just a friendly little tap. Nope, it was a solid punch! The one who was socked in the gut turned around to go after the kid who punched him. I automatically went into teacher mode and yelled “HEY…STOP” while the boy who did the punching is yelling “I’m f’ing pissed now” as he was backing away.
Those weren’t the only nasty words flying around in the hallway. Other comments made by these high schoolers were:
“They are so pissed.”
“She f’ing makes me so mad…she’s a b****.”
“You are so f’ing stupid.”
When the teacher I was standing with asked the students to change the way they phrased things, one response from a student was “It’s called freedom of speech…”
Seriously? Is it really? Is swearing and cussing and profanity considered freedom of speech?
I asked Alexa that question. Alexa’s response…“Hmmm…I’m not sure about that?”
Next, I texted my lawyer son the same question. His text back…
Okay, Google…what do you have to say about this complicated issue?
According to Hudson (2011), “profanity isn’t always protected speech. Certain categories of speech are not entitled to First Amendment protection, including fighting words and true threats. If a person engages in profane fighting words or utters a true threat with profanity, those words may not be protected speech” (para. 5) (emphasis mine).
So…would “Now I’m f’ing pissed” fall under that category since the kid punched another kid then said the words??? Would his words be considered fighting words?
In another article by Hudson Jr. (2017), he stated that “profanity can be regulated, however, under certain circumstances consistent with the First Amendment. Profane rants that cross the line into direct face-to-face personal insults or fighting words are not protected by the First Amendment” (para. 4).
My lawyer son was right. Case by case. Good grief. No wonder teachers don’t want to say much to those students who spew foul language. Do not be dismayed…
There is some hope for public schools when dealing with this issue. Freedom Forum Institute (n.d.) offered these words of reassurance, “Though public school students do possess First Amendment freedoms, the courts allow school officials to regulate certain types of student expression. For example, school officials may prohibit speech that substantially disrupts the school environment or that invades the rights of others. Many courts have held that school officials can restrict student speech that is lewd” (para. 3).
When I taught fifth graders, I didn’t even allow the word “sucks.” I asked my students to please not use that word as it was offensive to me. It means “to inhale vigorously.” One year while at a basketball game, one of my former fifth graders came to sit by me on the bleachers. Josh was then a junior in high school (he’s in his 30’s now). He was sharing a story with me and ended with “Doesn’t that just inhale vigorously, Ms. Schoolmeester?” I laughed and laughed. He remembered. And he honored my wishes that many years later.
I’m not a fan of swearing. In the same breath, I will never stop caring for kids because of their foul mouths. Parents…please teach your children that swearing is ugly. Take advice from Will Smith’s grandma…
Smith said, “She found my rap book and she never said anything to me but she wrote in the back of it ‘Dear Willard, truly intelligent people do not have to use words like this to express themselves. Please show the world that you’re as smart as we think you are. Love Gigi.’”
God bless grandmas!!! Their gray hair is a sign of wisdom. ❤❤