Reading novels with slight profanity

Discussion in 'Debate & Marathon Threads Archive' started by Mellz Bellz, Oct 10, 2013.

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  1. Mellz Bellz

    Mellz Bellz Comrade

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    In our 6th grade Language arts class we are reading The Watson's Go to Birmingham. My co teacher and I are taking turns reading it aloud to our students while they follow along. Even our lowest students are really enjoying it. They are all attentive and today they even begged us to continue reading instead of going down to the book fair because they wanted to hear what happened next.

    The book does contain some pretty mild profanity. Some use if the words "hell" "****" and maybe two uses of the word "ass." Before we read the book we preface to the kids that there will be some inappropriate language and as middle schoolers we expect them to handle it maturely. If they can't we will have to find something to read that is more aligned with their maturity level. We also talk about how author's choose their words carefully and how if the author chooses to have a character swear in dialogue it is sometimes tells us information about the character.

    With that being said my coteacher is not comfortable reading the swear words. She will either skip them and tell the kids they can fill the word in their heads or she will have me read it. I never censor literature for my kids and I read it as written because to me that is the way the author intended it to be read. Surprisingly the kids handle it really well. I get a few snickers because they get a kick out of hearing me "cuss" but they move on quickly.

    Maybe it's because I grew up in NY where it was more liberal and sometimes I forget how conservative it is down South, but when I mentioned that I had read the cuss words aloud to another one of the inclusion teachers she seemed surprised and said that she wouldn't have done that. She thinks that we should have sent a note home to the parents informing them of the language. For a few uses of "hell" "****" and "ass"? I think that's a bit ridiculous. I've heard much worse from some of their mouths and it's not like the book is dropping F bombs. I'm kind of second guessing my decision now. I mean if a parent complains I am very prepared to back the reasons I have for reading it as written. And it's not like I'm using that language in everyday conversation with my students.

    What are your thoughts? Do you censor language in literature for your students? Are my coworkers being ridiculous or am I just asking for trouble?
     
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  3. Mellz Bellz

    Mellz Bellz Comrade

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    Sorry I didn't realize that the board censored d*mn.
     
  4. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I would NEVER cuss in front of children.

    I'm not saying you're making a terrible mistake, but I simply would not. Parents would not like it, and I just don't do that.
     
  5. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I think it's probably best to kick this one up to admin.

    As for me, I don't censor an author's words. In my class, it's a different issue, because any swear words that exist are in a different language, so they don't seem as naughty as English swear words.
     
  6. giraffe326

    giraffe326 Virtuoso

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    If they all have a copy of the book, there is no censoring it. I'd talk with them ahead of time.
    I read Because of Winn-Dixie aloud every year and it has h*ll in it. I've never had anyone say anything because of the way it is written- the scene is pretty important so it almost goes unnoticed.
     
  7. Mellz Bellz

    Mellz Bellz Comrade

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    Yea I definitely prepare them ahead of time. Usually I feel like the teachers are the ones making it a bigger deal than it needs to be. I don't believe in censoring literature and I try read as expressively as possible. My intent is not to cuss just to cuss. The character who uses the language in question is supposed to be a troublemaker. If it was harsher cuss words I would think twice, but most of those words are in a lot of PG movies these days.

    I kind of think that as teachers we've just gotten hypersensitive about every word that comes out if our mouths. When I think about some of the things some of my teachers said to students, they'd have been fired immediately today. It was a different time though. Now even something innocent can be misconstrued.

    As far as our admin policy on this matter I'm not sure that there is one. I guess I should probably look into that.
     
  8. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    There are roughly 12 trillion books out there without those words. I'm willing to bet at least a few of them are even good.
     
  9. JustMe

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    It seems you're pretty fixed on where you stand. That said, I don't fully understand that you don't believe in censoring literature, but you'd think twice if it was the F-Bomb. Do you mean you'd think twice about reading the cuss word word or the book entirely?
     
  10. Ted

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    Each year I read "Hatchet" with my fourth-graders. At pretty much the LAST page is the "d" word.

    I do prepare my students ahead of time and my admin is aware of the book.

    I've explained to each principal that comes to the school that the kids love the book so much and that they really don't even get fazed when I read the word (due to my preparing them).

    In fact, by the time we're done reading it (it's usually at the end of the year, when they're a bit more mature), they comment more on how disappointed the book is ended over the "cuss" word.

    I think each teacher (of course only after receiving the admin's approval) needs to trust his/her own judgement. Each class has a different maturity and there are probably many students who hear the "d" word on a daily basis...thus why it doesn't faze them.

    I should say that while I normally have them read parts of the book, when we get to the "infamous" page, I read it... as I don't want them feeling uncomfortable saying it.

    With "The Watsons Go to Birmingham," I think it's such a classic, with so many chances to have rich discussion, you're wise in contemplating its use.
     
  11. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    I understand people who cuss and I am not deeply offended, but I don't cuss and I am not about to change. I skip cuss words since I don't do things I believe are wrong. I also believe I would be offending some students. I once watched a 5th grade teacher read aloud a book with lots of cuss words. I could see that several students were uncomfortable.
     
  12. JustMe

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    And it should be noted that even if kids seem cool with it, some are not. And some of the kids are certainly not going to admit it if asked, as some teachers ask classes if they're okay with the language before beginning a book.

    I have heard my mother say one cuss word in my over thirty years of life. My dad maybe three (and one was while I listened to an audio tape he secretly recorded during a messy divorce which I obviously wasn't supposed to here). Not all kids consider cussing the norm.
     
  13. bison

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    Funny, other than ass, I don't even see the other two as swear words. Rude and inappropriate, maybe, but not swearing. I wouldn't say them in school, but I don't say "that sucks" either. It's not swearing, just improper. Even ass can be used a non-swearing context (as in donkey). Anyway, I don't believe in censoring literature either. As long as the context and content are age-appropriate, I don't think it's a huge deal. Maybe it's because I'm not from the south either, but I wouldn't really think twice about it. There are definitely degrees of bad words, and for a sixth grader to hear hell is no big deal. They know these words perfectly well already, and you've already discussed being mature about it. To me, skipping a word makes it a bigger deal than it is. If the book had the f-word or c-word, I would just say that's probably not the right content for the age group. I can't think of any sixth grade level books with the f-word anyway, but I can think of several with the words you mentioned.

    Reminds me of people wanting to censor classics like Huck Finn for using the n-word because it makes them uncomfortable. You're SUPPOSED to be uncomfortable!

    Just a side note... I don't think being okay with this necessarily means you think swearing is the norm or acceptable. I virtually never swear, but I still think it can have a time and place in literature.
     
  14. dgpiaffeteach

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    I read literature as is for the most part. We read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I read everything there. Heck even The Canterbury Tales use the word arse, which the kids get a kick out of.

    I did not send any notes home last year and had no problems.
     
  15. MrsC

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    Interesting timing on this for me. One of the other grade 7 teachers is reading a book aloud to her class that contains some profanity. When I used it a few years ago, I used milder forms of the words--I'm not at all comfortable using profanity (even reading it from a text) in front of my students, even though I know they hear it all every day. One of my students was commenting on this and I joked that it was too bad he was in my class, because he wouldn't hear it from me. He then said, "No, that's a good thing. I wouldn't want to hear it." I don't think that it's wrong to read the words that are written, but I do think that we all need to do what is comfortable for us.
     
  16. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    I never censored my words when reading to a group of students. We read Of Mice and Men in one of my inclusion classes and it has the n word along with some hells and d*mns in there. The kids were prepared ahead of time and no one batted an eyelash when we were reading it.
     
  17. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    I've forgotten which stories we read this year, but plenty of them had cursing and we always read the curse words. The authors of the books pick certain words because they have a specific flavor they want the reader to experience. To censor these words or to not say them aloud is changing the meaning of the story.

    But I'm a huge fan of cursing. I feel like an appropriately placed dirty word really makes language exciting, colorful and emotional. Which is what I believe language should be. (no, I don't curse in the classroom)
     
  18. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I said earlier in the thread that I don't censor myself. I was only thinking of swear words. Racial slurs are a different thing, at least to me. I wouldn't be comfortable saying the n-word. I wouldn't hide that word from the students, but I wouldn't want to say it myself.
     
  19. a2z

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    I don't believe a teacher should ever use cuss words even if they are reading out loud. You can easily filter the word with something less offensive. It is rare that the cuss word is so significant to the story that it must remain otherwise the meaning would be lost.

    In HS my child's teacher was reading "a favorite novel" aloud to the students. Not only was it filled with multiple curse words over and over on a page but it was also filled with sexual references and undertones. As part of the reading of the novel the students were to write a chapter using the style of the author. However, the students weren't allowed to use cuss words or sexual references or undertones because the teacher believe it was inappropriate for the students to produce work like that because she would be offended to read it and it would be against school policy. Hmmm. My belief is if something is being read that contains something the students couldn't produce themselves under the guise of "their own creativity", then it shouldn't be used as a teaching tool. So, if students would be allowed to produce written pieces of work that contained cuss words for an impact or were allowed to read the same novel aloud to the class, then it should be ok to be read as a class. But we all know, a student that uses a cuss word in their writing or decided to read a section of a novel aloud to the class or a group of friends that had cuss words, they would be in trouble. They can't claim it is just good literature or an attempt at writing a piece of good literature.
     
  20. MissCeliaB

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    In my class, as long as the use of the words wasn't gratuitous, and was in keeping with the characterization, they would not be in trouble. When we write screenplays, I tell them they have to be rated PG-13, so no graphic sex, minimal nudity, only one use of the F-word in a non-sexual situation. Now, if they use the words just to use them, they get marked off, and if they say the words in class, especially if directed at another student, they are written up and sent to the office. But I think high schoolers are mature enough to write fiction that uses words that they use in everyday life. Are there better and more creative words? Sure. But if they are writing realistic characters that are true to life, a group of high schoolers aren't going to sit around and say, "Oh drat, I'm so irate!"

    When I choose movies I choose movies that have no nudity, and no gratuitous language or violence, but I'm amazed how many movies that are rated PG have the s-word in them, and I show them to my students.
     
  21. Ted

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    Miss Celia, may I ask what grade you teach? Or do you teach college?
     
  22. MissCeliaB

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    I teach high school. My courses are electives, so I have mostly upperclassmen, and some sophomores. I responding to the idea that teachers should never read a curse word ever. I disagree that the issue is that cut and dry.
     
  23. JustMe

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    I never really understood the argument that the author's intentions would be lost if someone skipped over a cuss word. Maybe if there are substitutions (darn for d*mn, for example) which "soften" things and mess with the character, but pausing very briefly for the space of a cuss word or even saying "beep" doesn't ruin the moment for me.

    Then again, I buy the clean versions of songs and I don't even have children. Haha. And I do cuss, but only in front of very few people. I have used cuss words in a couple PMs here...and if you were the recipient of such a message, I am very comfortable with you. I would never, ever cuss in front of children, parents, or generally anyone younger or older than me by ten years.
     
  24. greendream

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    Ha! There's a lot worse than "arse" in the Canterbury Tales, but they usually leave the more ribald parts out of lower level textbooks!

    With regard to the topic, it's funny, because I remember that 6th grade was the point when mild swear words started showing up in our school readings. I distinctly remember reading Bridge to Terabithia and the language definitely shocked me. Not that I hadn't heard words like **** and hell, but I knew at that point that we had crossed over into more serious territory.
     
  25. Ted

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    Oh! I meant no offense by asking. I was genuinely curious. :)

    I'm guessing the classes are lit-based?
     
  26. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    Oh, we didn't say the n word aloud in class. The gen ed teacher made sure that the students were reading silently to themselves when that word came up.
     
  27. MissCeliaB

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    I teach film studies I and II, and an introductory drama course. I'm much more cautious with my drama students, because about half of them are freshmen, though we do watch a filmed version of the musical Memphis, which actually has the F word in it, but we talk about it ahead of time, and treat it in the context the character speaks it in.

    One of my courses is dual enrollment, and mostly seniors, so we cover some more mature content. Still, nothing R-rated, but some stronger PG-13 movies. Also, our discussions get deeper, as we often discuss things from a psychoanalytic mode or a feminist mode, and those conversations get... interesting.

    My drama students may use mild swears in their scenes if and only if they can defend the use of the word as being something that the character would say and way. Why is that word necessary for character development.

    I don't skip over words because the words are meant to elicit an emotional response. All words are. If not, it's gratuitous, and we're not watching it. I don't skip over the N-word (though I do discuss my discomfort and reason for saying it) because saying "beep" or "N-word" does not have the same emotional impact.
     
  28. dgpiaffeteach

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    greendream, there definitely are! Just not in the three tales we read. Shakespeare has some too.

    Some authors do use certain words to emphasize the time period. Lee is a good example of that. I like that she uses the n-word because it allows my very rural students to engage in a great discussion about race, stereotypes, etc...
     
  29. Ms.SLS

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    I think it really depends on the age level and the student population of your location. I taught at a school where the students literally did not even recognize the words coming out of their mouths were curse words. They couldn't speak without cursing unless they really really focused on it. Did I worry about reading a book with a few d*amns at that school? No.

    My current school, I have not heard a single student curse in my classroom and only a few outside in the halls. Reading Of Mice and Men, where there are d*amns and hells on every page, and a few uses of n*gger, I told them they could substitute the word if they weren't comfortable saying the word as it was written.

    I curse like a sailor in my personal life, but I still feel weird reading curse words in front of my students. I'll usually do it anyway, but I do definitely understand the feeling of inappropriateness.
     
  30. greendream

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    Some folks have mentioned text that have the N-word in them. To me, that's a completely separate conversation.

    Some of the most important works of American literature feature the N-word, and while I recognize that the works should ideally open up a dialogue about race, I personally will not read anything in my class that has the N-word, period. This is simply because I'm extremely paranoid about it being misconstrued by parents in the community. It sucks, because it eliminates Huckleberry Finn, but I have to go with self-preservation in that case. I don't want to wind up being the next Paula Deen. :angel:
     
  31. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    What about if it is a required reading?
     
  32. JustMe

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    I've never had to teach any specific novel. I've been fortunate to have complete control over how I teach the standards.

    I don't mind teaching with a book containing the N word, but I wouldn't read it aloud. We would still discuss the word, though.
     
  33. greendream

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    Luckily, I'm the only teacher for my subject/grade combo in the school. All of our standards focus on performance, not specific texts, so I can avoid what I don't want to teach.
     
  34. dave1mo

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    You sound like a parent who complained about our reading of Freakonomics. You're right, there are other books at there that are good; there aren't other books out there that fit the specific standards and skills that I'm trying to teach, however. If that's the case, why should I have to pick a book without mature content/language (that the students hear every day IN THE SCHOOL) because it makes the parents, not the 16 year olds, uncomfortable?
     
  35. dave1mo

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    I don't want to work in a district that wouldn't allow and accept a legitimate argument for the text initiating a discussion on the context and setting of that particular era and would fire a teacher for using such a book in their class.
     
  36. a2z

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    Just because students are subjected to profanity by other students doesn't mean they want to be exposed to it by teachers. That is a very poor reason to support a teacher providing material that contains the same type of content.

    I know high school students that are very uncomfortable by curse words or sexual content in books and movies. They know that they can't get away from hearing this information while around others students, but that is no reason they need to be subjected to it by teacher choosing.

    What is your reasoning for doing so other than the excuse that they are exposed to it anyway.
     
  37. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    I couldn't imagine not teaching Bewulf in Brit. Lit and it has a few swear words in it. It's the oldest surviving work in the English language. I can't imagine not teaching Shakespeare either, but you'll find some swear words in his plays too.

    If we made a list of all the classics with swear words in it, that would leave very few options out of the books many schools teach. Huck Finn and TKAM spring to mind. Maya Angelou is much beloved by my students. So is Brave New World.
     
  38. JustMe

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    I agree.
     
  39. EdEd

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    This is a great conversation - truly with a few different legitimate perspectives. Personally, I'm not only "okay" with exposing kids to bad words and difficult themes, but supportive of it. I think teaching kids how to "critically consume" their world is very healthy. To that extent, I'd be more than comfortable allowing kids of the right maturity level to listen to songs with bad words and read books with inappropriate themes, provided there was an educational purpose and we directly addressed those themes.

    However, to me there is a difference between consuming art and reproducing it. I'd let kids listen to bad words, but not sing along with them, for example. I don't think it's the same with books, but I DO think there is an element of performance. For example, we expect kids to interpret text and add inflection as necessary. While I understand that this is just presenting literature - not endorsing it - I do think there is a difference.

    Let's take this example: Let's say there is a play written with gratuitous nudity. Would we select that play for high school students, even if felt that it had high artistic value?

    Another example: Let's say I teach chorus, and we came across a song from the 1920s we frequent use of the n word. Would we select that for performance?

    To me, the question is beyond simply getting in trouble and ending up as the next Paula Dean. I DO think there is something about performing or replicating art that is qualitatively different than merely consuming it. It doesn't go all the way meaning endorsement, but isn't quite simply "passive" either.

    I'm not sure I have a conclusion here, other than I don't think I'd ask kids to read curse words aloud. It isn't really censoring - you're still reading it, and still know it's there. You're just choosing not to replicate that certain portion because you realize it isn't appropriate for a given setting. I think that's teaching discretion, which is something I would value highly.
     
  40. EdEd

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    This is a great conversation - truly with a few different legitimate perspectives. Personally, I'm not only "okay" with exposing kids to bad words and difficult themes, but supportive of it. I think teaching kids how to "critically consume" their world is very healthy. To that extent, I'd be more than comfortable allowing kids of the right maturity level to listen to songs with bad words and read books with inappropriate themes, provided there was an educational purpose and we directly addressed those themes.

    However, to me there is a difference between consuming art and reproducing it. I'd let kids listen to bad words, but not sing along with them, for example. I don't think it's the same with books, but I DO think there is an element of performance. For example, we expect kids to interpret text and add inflection as necessary. While I understand that this is just presenting literature - not endorsing it - I do think there is a difference.

    Let's take this example: Let's say there is a play written with gratuitous nudity. Would we select that play for high school students, even if felt that it had high artistic value?

    Another example: Let's say I teach chorus, and we came across a song from the 1920s we frequent use of the n word. Would we select that for performance?

    To me, the question is beyond simply getting in trouble and ending up as the next Paula Dean. I DO think there is something about performing or replicating art that is qualitatively different than merely consuming it. It doesn't go all the way meaning endorsement, but isn't quite simply "passive" either.

    I'm not sure I have a conclusion here, other than I don't think I'd ask kids to read curse words aloud. It isn't really censoring - you're still reading it, and still know it's there. You're just choosing not to replicate that certain portion because you realize it isn't appropriate for a given setting. I think that's teaching discretion, which is something I would value highly.
     
  41. BumbleB

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    I think there's a big difference between gratuitous profanity and purposeful profanity.

    For example, I am starting a book with my eighth graders that has the "n word" in it. However, the word is used at a very crucial moment in the main character's life, and forces the character to reflect on his past and present actions. It's very much a "turning point" in the book. Omitting that word would not have the same impact on the character.

    Gratuitous profanity is found in some teen lit. Books written from a "guy's perspective" including sexual references and mild profanity come to mind. Those types of books can be read for independent reading, but I'm not going to stand up in front of the class and glorify that as "good" literature. It's a cheap thrill, not worthy of critical study and analysis.
     
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