Monday, January 31, 2011

Has it come to this?

A high school student attending Dallas’ North Mesquite High School was given a ticket for $340 for disorderly conduct/abusive language after she swore in a classroom. The news article did not cite the offending word verbatim, but it appears to be the word “shit.” High school teacher Michelle Lene overheard the comment and was offended. The student was sent to the principal’s office and given a lunch detention. One day later the school’s resource officer issued a citation. The fine skyrocketed to $637 after the teen failed to appear at a court hearing concerning the matter.

$340 dollars is a huge fine for anyone, let alone a high school student. That is almost my family food budget for two weeks, and I could not afford to give it to the state of Kansas if one of my children spoke inappropriately in a classroom. It’s not a good idea for the government to issue fines for poor language. It further chips away at that pesky notion that our government will not abridge our freedom of speech, salty or otherwise. I would rather have a student drop the “F bomb” in class than lose my first amendment right.

I am surprised at the weenie factor of the high school teacher who was offended by the excrementous reference. I heard priests drop the “F bomb” while I attended Quigley North High School in Chicago, as well as teachers swearing at Cicero’s Morton East High School where I graduated. This is something that my wife finds appalling, but for me was simply a fact of life. Students swear, and while teaching I did try to limit the instances of swearing in school, I developed a thick skin very quickly. There are better methods for dealing with students than kicking them out of the classroom, giving them detentions, and large financial penalties. Many students would react to that teacher so negatively that they would simply shut down in that room and all learning would cease. Classroom control is a big issue that affects learning. It is also a skill that is both hard to master and at the same time critical to master quickly.

If the imposition of fines becomes a regular occurrence in our nation’s high schools, what do we do with students and families who cannot or will not pay the fine? Do we withhold grades and/or a diploma over the payment of these fines? Some legislator somewhere will come up with the idea to withhold a driver’s license over unpaid fines, especially since many people learn to drive in a driver’s education course while in high school. What sort of financial cost will be incurred by the state for the collection of fines? What extra burdens will be placed on an already over-burden court system if this practice becomes a regular occurrence? How much will schools pay in legal fees once the ACLU starts suing?

Can we legislate proper behavior in this country? Should we try?

I’m also willing to bet that the young woman who took on a waitressing job to pay off the fine will be very careful about what she says in school in the future. For some students, a financial penalty might be a deterrent to giving in to the temptation to utter a coarse phrase. The near doubling of the fine for missing a court hearing also taught her that when a citizen is ordered to appear before a judge, they probably should appear. It was a good lesson. The offended teacher probably won’t have a swearing problem in her classroom in the future.

So, do we fine students in our classrooms or not? What do you say?


Wendy said...

Absolutely not! I think I heard as much swearing by some of my teachers than I did from my peers. Seems to me that the detention was punishment enough. I also fear that "slippery slope". What constitutes an offensive word? When did that become a criminal offense? I'm ticked off at the chipping away of so many of our freedoms and constitutional rights! Don't even get me started on the TSA.....

Michelle said...

I agree with you. Not only has that teacher shut down that student to learning, but probably that entire class, if not every class she has in that school. That was ridiculous and overexcessive. I find pregnant 14 year olds offensive. Maybe we should make them weat a letter for the rest of their life.
I agree it may be offensive to some. I grew up around it and with being military oriented, I hear it all the time. I try to teach my kids not to do it. I also agree, that it is our freedom and we need to protect that right no matter how "offensive" it is.
I'm curious if this was a school policy already in place or one they made up. Either way it needs to be addressed asap!

Kathleen said...

Didn't the Vice President of the United States of America drop the F bomb just last year?

And did you say "court hearing"? Over an inappropriate word? Now there's a fine use of our tax dollars and time spent. With bullying, drugs, sexual promiscuity, and general apathy towards academics, I think a few S words thrown about are the least of our problems. When I taught, I encouraged the kids to watch their tongues, but I also allowed them to be genuine; that is how I earned their trust and was able to forge a relationship with them.

Marlis said...

I had penned a nice comment and then my lap-top didn't co-operate. Arrrgh. So several hours later here it is again.

What should we fine Mistress Palin? Her and all the other politicians that have at times used colorful language?

As Wendy pointed out, where do we draw the line? What may be a swear word to one may not sound quite so offending to someone else.

The fine was excessive and the message behind it completely lost. Wasn't there more to be gained by handing the youth a putty knife with the instructions to get busy cleaning tables and chairs off old chewing gum after school for one week?

Charity said...

I teach my children not to swear. I have told my oldest that swearing is a sign of a feeble mind, because the person doesn't have a large enough vocabulary to use proper words. I am highly offended when my son plays against a hockey team where 12-14 year olds are using the "f" word and making sexually graphic comments.

With all that being said, I think the bulk of the burden falls upon the parents to instill values and clean language in their children and to discipline when necessary. I agree with the previous commenter that "The fine was excessive and the message behind it completely lost. Wasn't there more to be gained by handing the youth a putty knife with the instructions to get busy cleaning tables and chairs off old chewing gum after school for one week?"

One of the problems I see in schools that is different from when I was growing up is that the schools do not have the support of the parents, who dismiss disciplinary action from the school because their child can do no wrong. So perhaps this school got the courts involved because it's a little harder to ignore the legal system.

Pamela said...

pfft. this is why we homeschool, so that we can just beat the ever-loving shit out of our kids when they drop.

Pamela said...

i kid.

GingerB said...

Well I have been saying to folks here in Utah (always a bastion of sound judgment) "hey we're not in Kansas anymore!!" Um, laws prohibiting profance language have been declared unconstitutional. It may be a school rules violation but criminal penalties should not attach - they couldn't for adults. Maybe Kansas hates the First Amendment?

Arby said... incident happened in Dallas. As in Texas.

L. said...

Swearing is a lot of things, including offensive and abusive, even though sometimes is seems to be the only way to get a point across, capture someone's attention or relieve tension, which it isn't.

The idea of teachers cussing/swearing in the classroom is abusive and unacceptable. That school superintendents, principals and parents have allowed it to continue for decades, without accountability, speaks volumes. It must be okay with them or it's a way to avoid having to clean up their own act and learn to speak like the educators and parental figures they are supposed to be. It's not that I am devoid of insight or have never sworn, it's just that it is so outrageous in the classroom where, along with other sources, our children have definitely been carefully taught.

Miss Lene, it would seem, needs to grow up and become the teacher she claims to be. By doing so she'll stand a better chance of educating students properly, on the subject of swearing, instead of hiding behind her title and putting the responsibility elsewhere.

Then again, perhaps if we fine everyone every time we hear them swear, our nation's financial problems would be solved. Hmmmmm, now there's a thought.

TobyBo said...

I wonder what would happen if they took the opposite approach and paid students for using excellent vocabulary.

Bethany said...

I had three year olds in my preschool special education class whose only clearly understood vocabulary were swear words. Should they have been kicked out of class and their families fined? At what age would a child become responsible? At what point are teachers responsible for the education of their students, including creating classroom rules and class norms. My little ones were able to learn not to use those words at school but only after I earned their respect and provided them with alternative ways to express themselves. And that teacher must not eat lunch in the teacher's lounge because there is more swearing flung around there than in any teenage classroom, and it would surely be too much for her fragile constitution. Speaking of constitution, ours gives us the right to free speech so long as it does not interfere with the rights of others.

firefaery said...

I love how the school's response was the typical "send them out and detain them" because we all know how effective that is for every unpleasant scenario. So many more constructive things could have come from that situation. I imagine had the teacher actually talked the the student and the class about the language and it's place, why it offends, and sincerely asked them to try to watch what they say.. or kept the student in at lunch themselves, and discussed it, it likely wouldn't have escalated to that ridiculous level. Maybe if the teacher had tried to mediate the situation between the two students, as they were in conflict, rather than simply focussing on the swear. I'd have been more concerned with the context in which it was said.
Working recently with kids/youth in a youth center had me encounter this on a daily basis. For some kids its just their natural way of speaking, because that's what they live with. All I would have to do would say "I really don't like that language, it's not necessary here and there are other words you can say, especially in front of the smaller kids" and they would try to refrain, because they respected and liked me, and knew the feeling was mutual.
I really like how all the comments for the news article are things like "finally, yes we should do this everywhere!"

The_Kid said...

At the same time, we have a 2nd grade teacher on suspension (which will probably sit at home collecting 75k or more a year for doing nothing for years) because she actually orchestrated 2 of her 2nd grade students, one male - on female, to have physical sex in front of the class. She did this a few times according to the article.

This country seems unrecognizable to me. Seriously.

.. Anyway, no, I think first offense should be just the detention with a warning about the fine and more severe consequences if it continues.

Alasandra said...

Not, While I am not a fan of profanity too many of our children's rights have been stripped away by school boards. Freedom of Speech shouldn't end when you walk in a classroom door.