Monday, January 31, 2011

Has it come to this?

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 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?


  1. Hard to answer. I attended public school in the Bronx. I knew most swear words in elementary school. Whatever I didn't catch there, I learned in junior high. And yet, I was respectful enough of my parents and authority figures (and smart enough) that I didn't use such language in front of them. I don't understand if the high school teacher simply happened to hear the word used or if the comment was directed at the teacher, either way, I don't think the fine fits the crime. This is the way teenagers talk to each other. It's a hard habit to break. I stopped using such language when I had kids, but even I have my lapses of potty mouth. Maybe I should pay my kids when I do that. :o)

    Peace and Laughter!

  2. Thanks so much for visiting my blog ~ I'm glad you did so that I could discover yours! Now following....
    Blessings to you,
    Jil @ Sweet Diva

  3. Hi glad you stopped by and that you're now following The Homeschool Apologist. Arby (homeschool dad and great writer) and I (Linda) co-write this blog...and each also have our own personal blogs. Arby blogs at Boarding in Bedlam and I blog at The Joyful Journey.

    Blessings, and again, thanks for following!

  4. "High school teacher Michelle Lene overheard the comment and was offended."

    Some how our society has gotten to the point that many people expect not to be offended. I'm offended by this. :-)

    "Can we legislate proper behavior in this country? Should we try?"


  5. Should we try to legislate proper behavior? Of course. Do you think murdering your neighbor is inappropriate behavior? So do the majority of the people in this country and that is why we have laws against it. Whenever it is used, the whole "legislating behavior" argument is generally bogus.

    I have to disagree with you on the concept of controlling what is said in the classroom vs. our first amendment rights. We should, as taxpayers, expect certain things from the public schools. Unfortunately most of what we would expect is not happening (like kids actually getting educated) - but that is not the point.

    I homeschool and have for twenty years. I do not use foul language and I do not allow my children to use it. I believe that foul language is demeaning and as someone has once said, "Using foul language is an unintelligent way of expressing strong emotion."

    In any taxpayers we have every right to expect certain behaviors, from students AND teachers, that are conducive to learning. We also have the right to expect that behaviors that are not conducive to learning be discouraged or disciplined. Do you believe that our first amendment rights would include using racist language in a classroom or a teacher being cussed out? If you say those are wrong then you immediately throw out the legitimacy of that argument.

    What the punishment should be for using foul language in a classroom could, and probably would, vary. If it were my classroom I would simply not allow it. Teachers who expect and demand respect generally get it.

  6. Thank you for stopping by, reading, and commenting. Linda and I are always grateful for new readers. There is an enormous gulf in acceptable behavior between murder and swearing, and unless you are going to make the argument that swearing is a gateway behavior to committing murder, I think the comparison is a stretch. Using foul language, like many other things, is a habit. It is also a habit that is difficult to break. A person raised in an environment where foul language was the norm will not always have an easy transition to a society where foul language is unacceptable. This should not be mistaken as approval of foul language, merely acknowledging a fact of life that I have not only lived, but have witnessed in many, many other people’s lives. In the classroom, I believe that there are far better issues on which to battle a student than the use of inappropriate language. Students disengage from the learning process easily, frequently due to an emotional reaction to something a teacher has said or done in front of the class. Once a teacher has gained the respect of a student in the classroom, usually a quiet word after class, without embarrassing the student, is sufficient to dissuade future swearing.