Cussin’ In The Classroom

Of late, I’ve noticed that I have begun using more profanity in the classroom than I ever have previously in my teaching career. (Strictly speaking, I do not ‘use’ more profanity; I ‘mention’ it. That is, rather than using the word ‘fuck’ in a sentence like “This is a fucking crazy argument,” I mention it as in ‘Then someone might say, “Look, fuck it, I’m not going to obey the law.’ In the first case, I have used the word ‘fuck’ myself; in the second, I have quoted someone using it.) I do not exactly know why this is the case. For the first dozen or so years of my teaching career, I studiously eschewed mentioning profanity in the classroom; my style of teaching saw me stick pretty close to the assigned reading and the written notes I had prepared on it. Of late, my teaching has become more unstructured; I rely less on notes and more on the text (and on student responses to it); I consider most of the teaching in the classroom to happen when my students and I build on the textual material to explore applications of it in our daily lives. I supply more examples to my students now, and spend considerable time making them as elaborate as they need to be in order to illustrate the point I am trying to get across. I’m also more comfortable now in my skin as a teacher, more confident about the material I teach (even as many new existential doubts have also crept into my self-assessments of my intellectual and pedagogical worth.) These changes have, over a period of time, resulted in–when things are going well–a more informal classroom space.

This ‘loosening up’ has, I suspect, also loosened my tongue somewhat. I do not mind the tangents I go off on; I’m more inclined to be facetious in class, to invoke levity into its proceedings. Some of my students have told me that they quite enjoy my historical asides, the stories I tell to supply some historical context to a particular philosophical debate; this has encouraged me to be more discursive in my working through the material being discussed in a class. And so, I have found that often times, when constructing some imaginary conversation for an example, to illustrate some political or ethical issue, I will throw some profanity into the mix to make the reported conversation more dramatic, more realistic. I hope.

My students do not seem to mind; no one ever looks shocked. Most students occasionally snicker; there is a noticeable relaxation in the classroom atmosphere. (For some strange reason, this is also the case whenever the topic at hand invokes the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.) I suspect that to a certain extent, my language humanizes me for my students–for better or worse. I’m ‘distant’ from my students in many ways–this language brings me ‘closer’ to them, again, for better or worse. I do not think that I’m currying favor with my students by employing this language; it has come naturally to me as my classroom methods of interacting with students have changed. For what it is worth, I curse a lot in my conversations outside the classroom, so I’m slipping into a mode of discourse that comes naturally to me. About fucking time.

5 thoughts on “Cussin’ In The Classroom

  1. Are you in the process condoning the use of profanity for students in high school…or is it just college? What does it prove or disprove? I will be the first to say I have cursed. However, I do not in the academic setting as I do not condone that language from the students, faculty, staff, at the high school and/or collegiate level. Help me understand the reasoning, if it is not to attempt to be one of the crowd.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Not at all. I make it quite clear in my post that this is possibly a side-effect of my having become more informal in my classroom as I have ‘grown’ into my job. Again, I’m not using the language, I’m mentioning it.

      1. When I was five years old and on the short walk to school, with my best friend Alvin (this was the year 1964), Alvin and I overheard a teen say “shit” in conversation with another teen, as they overtook us, whereupon Alvin said “Ooooh! He said a baaaaaad word!”

        I marched Alvin right back to my kitchen door, rapped on it until my non-plussed mother answered and said, “Mother, tell Alvin there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ word!”

        Mother frowned and said, “Oh yes there are, there are quite a few bad words!”

        Alvin was beaming, of course, but that (seriously) was the day I lost confidence in my mother’s qualifications to be my intellectual beacon (although she was still quite good at pancakes). All she had to say was, “Well, as we know, some people are offended by some words… for reasons of their own. It’s up to you to decide when to humor this idiosyncrasy.”

        Ah, what might have been…

      2. Great story – and a very good point. Interestingly, I just had this conversation about ‘bad words’ with my daughter recently. My sister-in-law was present and she made roughly the point you wanted your mother to make!

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