A high school student attending Dallas’ North Mesquite High School was given a ticket for $340 for disorderly conduct/abusive language after she swore in a classroom. The nbcdfw.com news article did not cite the offending word verbatim, but it appears to be the word “shit.” High school teacher Michelle Lene overheard the comment and was offended. The student was sent to the principal’s office and given a lunch detention. One day later the school’s resource officer issued a citation. The fine skyrocketed to $637 after the teen failed to appear at a court hearing concerning the matter.
$340 dollars is a huge fine for anyone, let alone a high school student. That is almost my family food budget for two weeks, and I could not afford to give it to the state of Kansas if one of my children spoke inappropriately in a classroom. It’s not a good idea for the government to issue fines for poor language. It further chips away at that pesky notion that our government will not abridge our freedom of speech, salty or otherwise. I would rather have a student drop the “F bomb” in class than lose my first amendment right.
I am surprised at the weenie factor of the high school teacher who was offended by the excrementous reference. I heard priests drop the “F bomb” while I attended Quigley North High School in Chicago, as well as teachers swearing at Cicero’s Morton East High School where I graduated. This is something that my wife finds appalling, but for me was simply a fact of life. Students swear, and while teaching I did try to limit the instances of swearing in school, I developed a thick skin very quickly. There are better methods for dealing with students than kicking them out of the classroom, giving them detentions, and large financial penalties. Many students would react to that teacher so negatively that they would simply shut down in that room and all learning would cease. Classroom control is a big issue that affects learning. It is also a skill that is both hard to master and at the same time critical to master quickly.
If the imposition of fines becomes a regular occurrence in our nation’s high schools, what do we do with students and families who cannot or will not pay the fine? Do we withhold grades and/or a diploma over the payment of these fines? Some legislator somewhere will come up with the idea to withhold a driver’s license over unpaid fines, especially since many people learn to drive in a driver’s education course while in high school. What sort of financial cost will be incurred by the state for the collection of fines? What extra burdens will be placed on an already over-burden court system if this practice becomes a regular occurrence? How much will schools pay in legal fees once the ACLU starts suing?
Can we legislate proper behavior in this country? Should we try?
I’m also willing to bet that the young woman who took on a waitressing job to pay off the fine will be very careful about what she says in school in the future. For some students, a financial penalty might be a deterrent to giving in to the temptation to utter a coarse phrase. The near doubling of the fine for missing a court hearing also taught her that when a citizen is ordered to appear before a judge, they probably should appear. It was a good lesson. The offended teacher probably won’t have a swearing problem in her classroom in the future.
So, do we fine students in our classrooms or not? What do you say?