I hear and I see profanity. Often. (That was a functional fragment, not a grammatical error.) I've been teaching for twenty nine years, and I spent twenty five of those years teaching middle school students. But I did not often see or hear profanity in my middle school classroom. Why? Because I helped my students to understand that using profanity is most often the result of a lack of adequate vocabulary to express oneself. During normal daily conversation, you should have the ability to tell others what's on your mind without having to resort to "cussing." How did I help them understand that? Well, first of all, I had to get their attention.
(I think I'll change tenses now.)
It's easy to get the attention of a middle schooler; all you have to do is say, "I really need to talk to you about using dirty words." All talking stops, ears perk up, and all eyes bore holes through me. Mission accomplished! Now is the time to talk with these impressionable young minds about why people like to cuss. Oh, we don't repeat dirty words, nor do we curse during the class discussion. We just talk about why bad words come out.
"For instance, there are times when a 'dirty word' might slip out during physical or emotional distress, like stumping your toe when you run into a chair in the dark on the way to the kitchen in the middle of the night to get a glass of water."
A student asks me if I ever cussed when I stumped my toe. I say, "Yes." I didn't want to admit that, but you have to be "real" with middle school students. I tell them that I have been practicing, very successfully I might say, to replace profanity with more acceptable words. Instead of saying a "cuss word" I say, "DIRTY WORD!" (I got that idea from a preacher's daughter.)
Well, that sounds ridiculous to eighth graders... laughable, in fact. When the laughter dies down, I can hear, "dirty word!" being whispered and muttered all over the classroom. sigh... But I still have their attention.
Now, I have to do or say something to convince my students to use acceptable language instead of profanity. It's now time to analyze and reason with them. That's really not so difficult to do with middle school students. They really do want someone to talk to them as if they have a working brain. Here's a paraphrase of some of the things I have said to my students:
"If you do resort to cussing, it is probably out of habit or out of a feeling of inadequacy. I'll talk about the feelings of inadequacy in a minute. Let's talk about habits. Habits can be broken, but it takes deliberate effort...and an alternate behavior should replace the bad habit." (Now you see why saying, "DIRTY WORD!" proved to be successful for me.) We can all hope that your tendency to curse is out of habit, because it is the easier of the two reasons to "fix." Why shouldn't you use profanity? After all, you hear profanity all around you. Why shouldn't you use it, too? Why? Well, perhaps you wouldn't like your grandmother to hear those words coming from your mouth. Do you "cuss" your grandma? No? Why? Because you respect her? Why do you not respect YOURSELF? Why do you continue to have a 'habit' that is controlling you? Are you admitting that you can't break the habit?"
(Dear readers: This goes on and on, but you get the idea....)
"Now let's talk about the second reason for "cussing." You may notice that your classmates who use profanity often are the same folks who like to draw attention to themselves with bad behavior in the classroom. This is because of feelings of inadequacy. People who have such feelings like to draw our attention to their bad behavior and bad language because it diverts our attention from problems they want to hide from us, perhaps even from themselves. People who feel inferior must resort to extreme behavior to feel in control, and one thing that such people have in common is a filthy mouth. So, if you resort to using profanity in my classroom, I will wonder, and now the rest of the class will, too, why you feel inferior to the rest of us."
Well, by now, students are wanting NOT to use profanity because if they do say bad words during the course of normal conversation, they are admitting they are not able to break a bad habit OR they are admitting they have feelings of inadequacy.
Now the students are willing to learn to express themselves without using profanity. We go on about our business, learning the intricacies of the English language and how better to communicate with others. We practice expressing emotions such as anger and frustration with language that is acceptable in the classroom. We learn new words, and we practice using those new words in writing and in conversation. We create pictures in the minds of our readers and listeners. We no longer suffer from a lack of vocabulary. We've become smarter. We smile more. At least we do in the classroom of The Big Sister (who's 5'4").
Now, if only I could convince my husband, a former sailor who's now in law enforcement, of the need to refrain from using cuss words. I hear and I see profanity. Often.