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Primary Education News
News Dealing with swearing and bad language in class
Swearing and inappropriate language in schools, even in primary classes, is on the rise, argues Gary Shacklady
As a child, I don't remember hearing a swearword until I was perhaps 10 years-old. I certainly didn't know there was a swearword beginning with a 'c'. However, society these days and the lives of the children I teach are full of foul language.
I was discussing with colleagues the possible reasons for this. It seems to boil down to relaxed tolerances of acceptable language. When television shows programmes containing words we would not accept in our classrooms, how can we argue?
When I was young and became aware of rude words or swearing, I was told clearly that I could hear them but was not allowed to say them. When I turned 15 and saw more films with these words in, it became more acceptable for me to use this language with my parents, but very much within reason. I seemed, even with permission to use these words, to be limited to a daily quota of swearwords. In my experience, this does not seem to be the case with the children we teach. All the children in my class know the S and F words and there has been a case of one child calling another a wanker. Obviously, this language is not tolerated in school but my immediate concern is around the more intermediate words like crap, piss and bugger.
In the US, crap is acceptable. It is often in The Simpsons, a show which the majority of my year 4 class watches. The DVDs for The Simpsons are rated 12 but the show is broadcast at 6pm; before bedtime.
In Australia, the word bugger is not foul language. There is a famous and entertaining television in which the driver repeatedly causes damage because his Toyota truck is too powerful and he repeatedly swears. I have shown it to children, but wimped out and only showed it on mute.
It seems that even here in Blighty, the word shagging is not seen as inappropriate. The BBC broadcast a Comic Relief sketch in which Rowan Atkinson, portraying the Archbishop of Canterbury, used the word a few times, as well as arsing. This was before the 9pm watershed.
So where do we draw the line? A boy in my class asked me if he could go for a piss. I said he could but the next time he needs to go, he should just ask to go to the toilet. I am aware that many teachers would have spoken more sternly to him. In his home, piss would be fine, but I can't judge the same for the other children, whose ears I must endeavour to keep innocent.
My approach since with this boy has been the same as mine was when I was younger; you can hear these words, but not use them. Then there's the case of the girl who wrote, in a holiday recount, a quote from her father: "Oh, bollocks!" On editing this piece of work, I dodged the bullet and suggested we don't use language like that in school and that maybe we should change it so it read: "Dad shouted out in annoyance."
But, while I fight the battle in the classroom, I am let down by football. The children in my class regularly go the local stadium to watch the teams play. They can't avoid the tirade of abuse from the stands, however poetic or beautifully sung it is. Nor can they avoid the players on the television. I use Wayne Rooney as an example. Oh, what a role model this man is for our next generation. Seemingly every match he plays, a decision goes against him and he spurts out words I never want to hear; and all of this straight at the referee. I hope and dream of times where children use appropriate language but am I fighting a losing battle? Should I admit defeat and lower my expectations?
Should we be more in line with other English speaking countries and desensitise crap, bugger, bollocks, bullshit and piss? Or it that a step towards neutralising the really foul language?
For now, I think I'll stick with the: "You can hear it but shouldn't use it" approach.
Gary Shacklady teaches a year 4 class at a primary school in Reading. He is a specialist in maths and PE.