We know that profanity carries a certain meaning, otherwise we wouldn’t reserve it for situations when the extreme is simply bursting to be expressed with a power-packed expletive. But what do you do when a student answers a question with a thoroughly inappropriate response?
8th grade English class. Topic: “American / German festivals”
In-class assignment: make a mind-map (brainstorm ideas) of things related to any cultural festival in Germany
Result, from a 14-year-old boy:
“The Laubach Ausschussfest is where people shoot guns, drink beer, and fuck drunken bitches”.
Reaction: raucous laughter.
I had to give him credit for being honest; the 471st time the festival will be celebrated this June will likely also include the events of the preceding 470 years, namely, men being macho with firearms, Germans doing what they do best with malt beverages, and…well…the subsequent drunken hookups. I couldn’t have asked for a truer, more concise statement. So to begin with, I treated it as the legitimate answer that it was. I even wrote “fuck drunken bitches” on the board and asked the class to help me translate the phrase into a more refined form of English. (Mind you, the 60-something-year-old teacher whose class I was leading was in a slight state of shock at this point). It was surprising how fast they shouted out answers like “have sex with!” and “sleep with!”, but when it came to finding a milder form of “bitches”, it took a few seconds before girls was decided upon as fitting. Suddenly, under his phrase stood “have sex with drunken girls” and instead of seeming funny or clever for knowing some quality English slang, he just looked like a douche.
Reaction? No more laughter.
A very short level-headed lecture followed in which I made crystal clear that that sort of language wouldn’t be tolerated in my classroom, regardless of its accuracy. It gave me a little perspective on just how much they absorb from (primarily) American media, while German MTV subtitles lack the cultural context to give the words their real meaning and weight. I let them know that despite the inappropriate usage in a classroom setting, it’s definitely extremely useful to know our wonderful variety of four-letter words…provided they know the actual meaning behind what they’re saying.
Privately, I’m guilty of using degrading language on a fairly regular basis, so I did feel hypocritical for calling him out, but I suppose I have to pat myself on the back for going all “teacher-y” on him…not something I do often, as I much prefer being seen by them as a sort of mentor/personal development catalyst than an authority figure. ^_^