Creating a Positive Environment for Everyone
Student A is unpacking in the closet area while being assisted by his mother. Student
A’s mother says, “Hurry the f*@!k up I’m late for work and you are p#$$**@g me off.”
Student A, mother and the teacher overhear the exchange. What should the teacher
do? Ignore the profanity? Confront the parent? Give the parent a cautionary warning?
Ask the principal to limit the parent’s access to the classroom and/or school? On a
philosophical level, the teacher wonders if the parent is aware that there are some
children that live in homes and families that profanity is never used or heard.
School communities often have conflicting values around language. Language values
change from one community to another. For example, some teachers believe that
parents should be reprimanded for profanity, while others seek to offer parents
alternatives to expressing themselves is a school setting. This issue complicates the
problem of young children using profanity and the range of solutions that teachers and
staff members can use to solve the profanity problem.
The terms cursing and dirty language are used broadly to refer to several categories of
offensive speech: name calling, insulting, profanity, slang, vulgarity, obscenity, epithets,
and slurs. Each of these categories represents a different speaker intention and each
intention presents a different problem for early childhood professionals (Jay, 1996).
What constitutes appropriate speech at home is not appropriate within the school
environment. Elementary school-age children learn appropriateness when they are
intellectually able to appreciate the impact of language on listeners and can empathize
with them (Crosser, 1996).
Why are children cursing? Cursing is evoked by a small and predictable set of variables
(Goodenough, 1931; Jay, 1992). Some children are positively reinforced by siblings or
parents for cursing. Giving children attention, such as laughing or asking them to repeat
a dirty word, is enough to increase cursing behavior. One common source of cursing is
exposure to inappropriate adult role models-either parental figures or adults in the
neighborhood (Vissing, Straus, Gelles, & Harrop, 1991).
Popular culture in the form of video games, music videos, radio, television, movies, and
music lyrics are also common sources of bad language. Children who are allowed
access to media without restrictions or supervision are likely to bring bad language to
the school. What a child hears at home or in the neighborhood may get repeated at the
school. In this case cursing may reflect the child's home life (Jorgenson, 1985). Both
school and home speech contexts affect a child's vocabulary.
We feel that we must state for parents and children that the profanity and offensive
language they hear in their neighborhood, at home, subway, playground, or basketball
court are not acceptable or tolerated here at the Ralph Bunche School. New York City
Department of Education and the Ralph Bunche School have strict rule policies on
language that makes everyone feel included. Both sets of rules do not allow offensive,
profanity, vulgar, obscene, lewd, provocative, or cursing language in the school
One important goal for teachers is to instruct children to speak and write using
acceptable (formal) common core language standards. On a practical level, some
parents need to learn to use reason or good judgment regarding when and where to
use offensive language, knowing that some name calling, cursing, or insults may lead
to negative consequences against the speaker. An adult using profanity in a school
environment might make other listeners perceive cursing as a sign that the speaker is
uneducated or out of control. Modeling good language skills and building character
when children are young help prevent problems from developing later on.
Because children are like sponges their brains are ready to absorb and repeat what
they hear, adults should be careful to attend to their own language so that they are
good role models.
Our policy: Cursing intentionally without stopping after a reminder equals a mandatory
meeting with the principal. Cursing repeatedly with intent to upset people, children
and/or cursing at a staff member is an automatic restriction on your right to enter the