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Could we all just swear off profanity?

Local Commentary

Posted: April 12, 2008 11:54 p.m.
Updated: June 14, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Earlier this week I was in front of a Signal news rack, picking up an extra copy of the newspaper. There was a young man standing nearby with a toddler whom I believe was his son.

Dad was talking on the cell, and I couldn't help but eavesdrop on his conversation. "That's a bunch of b---s---. If I see him, I going to kick his f---ing a--."

In the course of 15 to 30 seconds, I must have heard the "f"-word uttered no fewer than a half dozen times - all this in front of his small son. I have to admit I was shocked.

Profanity seems to becoming mainstream. That disturbs me. Profanity isn't just spoken in fits of anger. It's everywhere.

Before you start accusing me of being the "profanity police," I need to be candid with you. I swear sometimes, too. My wife catches me and in a microwave second, reminds me that foul language is unacceptable.

She's right! So I am making a concerted effort to reduce and eliminate any and all profanity that may blurt out of my mouth.

As a teacher, I hear profanity all the time, everything from "Oh, f--- it!" to "I don't understand this f---ing question." When I hear kids using profanity, it makes me angry. So I have adopted a zero-tolerance for profanity in my classroom.

During a reflective moment I tried to recall whether I heard this plethora of profanity while I was growing up in Los Angeles many decades ago. Unequivocally, No!

I remember once using the "f"-word as a middle-schooler. An administrator heard it and summoned me for a one-way ticket to the boys' vice principal's office. My parents were called, and when I arrived home that afternoon, my mother promptly banished me to my bedroom to await the wrath of my father. I consumed a goodly bite of an Ivory soap bar that evening, and that pretty much cured me of the profanity problem.

Today, it is not uncommon for 6- and 7-year-olds to spew profanity, in no way comprehending what they're saying. Teachers, counselors, administrators and all the classified employees at our Santa Clarita Valley schools need to take notice and report these outbursts to the parents of children who regularly utter profanity. Parents need to sit down and tell their children that vulgar language has no place in their vocabulary, is hurtful to others, and it is just plain ugly.

And, of course, parents should be cautious not to set a poor example and use these vulgar and disgusting words around small children. Kids are like sponges. They soak it up, only to spit the profanity out later on.

One might say: Lighten up. What's the big deal using profanity?

Recently an Indianapolis, Ind., high school adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward profanity. Students caught spewing the "f"-word, the "s"-word, the "b"-word and even the "n"-word get a one-way ticket to detention.

Apparently, the program has worked. School fights, which usually start with verbal vulgarity, are way down. That's a no-brainer. Swearing is not only bad manners, it's poor communication that shows a lack of imagination and limited vocabulary.

The problems of profanity start in the home, but schools can do a lot more to curb this growing problem. The California State Education Code has a provision which calls for suspension of a student who habitually is profane. Ed. Code 48900 (i) allows teachers to suspend for one day (plus one additional day) any student who displays profanity and vulgarity.

William S. Hart Union High School board members Paul Strickland and Gloria Mercado-Fortine recently served on a committee on diversity, and central to that committee was the proposal to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward use of profanity by not only students, but teachers and classified staff, as well.

Strickland feels adopting such a policy in the Hart district would prevent a furtherance of campus hate crimes and hate verbal abuse.

Punishment for offenders might be as simple as a verbal or written warning, followed by notification of the student's parents. Further offenses could result in class or school suspension.

Naysayers will challenge this and say, "Don't schools have enough to worry about with drugs and weapons on campus, teen pregnancy and gangs, to spend time monitoring profanity on campus?" Maybe if a strong zero-tolerance for profanity policy was established by the Hart district, the problems of teen pregnancy, drugs, weapons and gangs might diminish.

Can this policy be enforced? Of course it can be enforced.

A senior at that Indiana high school I referred to complained about the new zero-tolerance policy toward profanity by writing a letter to the school newspaper stating "the new policy on profanity sucks." The school's principal returned the comment to the senior and asked him to revise it in more appropriate language. The revised comment came back, "the new policy inhales vigorously."

Roger Gitlin is a Santa Clarita resident and teacher and Minuteman. He can be reached at His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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