Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What If Kids Could Swear at School?

by David Linder, Clearwater parent

Warning, the following post includes language some people don't like--and stories of kids using such language.

One rainy day on our way out the door, I heard my 10-year-old yell, "Shit!" from outside. I quickly went to look what happened. Turns out he had been balancing two boxes of Yu-Gi-Oh cards on top of a binder. It was raining and the boxes slipped and fell to the ground.

Seeing they were in metal tins I knew the cards were fine. I reminded him the rain wouldn't affect them and offered him a bag to carry them in. I know how I was supposed to react: a minor using bad words needs to be disciplined, right? What I actually thought at the time was, "Neat. He knows how to swear correctly."

I love the question of "What if kids could swear at school," because it’s so shocking to adults. Don’t you need to teach children appropriate language? How will they know not to shout curses at work later? 

Adults that object miss the point--it’s not that I want my kids to swear. I have the same goals as any parent: that my kids will function as sensitive, compassionate, and productive people in society--as good citizens.

By having the freedom to swear at school, students have to learn how to wield language.* Words are just words, but some words are sharper than others.  They can hurt; they can incite. What better way to practice restraint than to learn what the true impact of words is?

Banned words are taboo fun. As long as nobody finds out, it’s a thrill to use them because you aren’t supposed to. Remove the ban and you remove the thrill. Now you have to deal with the meaning and intention of the word.

Swear words can also heal. Dropped the Thanksgiving turkey on the floor on the way to the table? The first thing most of us do is exclaim--loudly. That swear is a self-rebuke, a wish, and a regret. Researchers have found that swearing can reduce physical pain. My wish is that my children understand the use and impact of all their language.

*School Meeting,The Clearwater School's governing body composed of all students and staff, has repeatedly upheld the right of free speech, but also expects responsible use of emotionally-charged words. People who choose to swear at school must be certain that no one in the vicinity finds their language offensive or hurtful, and have to deal with the consequences of using language irresponsibly.


Sarah D. said...

I can't say that I love the semi-gratuitous swearing that seems to pour out of the mouth of my seven year old, but I have always felt that restricting kids from swearing and/or not swearing around kids is somewhat bizarrely arbitrary. I want my kids to understand the power of language in all its permutations and allowing them to swear has given us the opportunity to have great conversations about the meanings of some of those words and why (at least at our house) some swear words are okay, but others (ones that have potentially sexist, homophobic, etc. meanings) are not.

Unknown said...

Unlike Sarah, I am quite fond of semi-gratuitous swearing -- as long as it's done by small barefoot kids with unbrushed hair running around school buildings. I feel a sense of nostalgic comfort when I see this kind of spectacle; it reminds me of my childhood and the free school I went to. My kids actually swear a heckuva lot less often than I do, and almost never (anymore) in embarrassing situations like in front of grandparents or at a summer camp. I hear much more gratuitous swearing on public transportation or crossing college campuses -- coming from the mouths of those who, presumably, did not get much experience of freedom and its consequences in their early years.

tbk said...

"Bad language" is the number one example showing that children learn by example: Don't use bad language around them and they won't pick it up. I agree with Sarah, be open about it and talk about what could be taken as an insult and is not good (words can hurt).