Want to take a small step step to help build a more lofty civil society? Then let’s ban teachers from allowing profanity inside California classrooms. Not all cuss words; just the seven “dirty words” that the Federal Communications Commission has banned from public airway television and radio broadcasts since it won a Supreme Court ruling in the case of FCC vs. Pacifica Broadcasting in 1978.
The issue of decent discourse in public schools recently came into focus in the Arizona state school system, where a teacher urged high school students in class to yell profanities at each other more or less as a socialization project. Outraged parents responded by complaining to the school district and to officials, and our friend State Senator Lori Klein (R-Anthem) authored a simple bill that has achieved national attention that would punish offending teachers who allowed obscene and profane communications in the classroom with suspension and even termination for multiple offenses. “You’re there to be educated” Klein told the Associated Press, “You’re not there to talk smack.”
Banning the seven dirty words in California classrooms is recognized as constitutional given the FCC Supreme Court precedent. Doing so is desirable for a myriad of reasons: children are impressionable and mostly learn their socialization skills in the classroom, interacting with other children. A child’s communications skills move from simple to complex during the school years and sociologists understand that “mimicry”, especially of authority figures, plays a lasting role in communications development. Moreover, a general moral decline has been recognized as growing within public school systems across America, which has been studied at Universities and written about by such authors as former Education Secretary William Bennett. Bennett cites the Supreme Court’s “outlawing” of prayer in public schools as a source of the decline, noting in cultural indexes that between 1960 and 1990 divorce doubled, teenage pregnancy went up 200%, teen suicide increased 300%, and violent crime went up 500%. It is clear that we are at risk of slowly becoming an “anything goes” society, and that result does not bode well for the future of our nation and our children. As Rudy Giuliani learned as Mayor of New York, “small things did matter” in trying to turn back a culture of fear and crime in New York City, and to work towards a more civil society.
In the 1970s profane comedian George Carlin made a great living touring the country and swearing at his shows during his monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Some might have thought it was funny at the time, but what lasting contribution did Carlin ever leave for America’s school children? If California’s public school children aren’t allowed to pray in the classroom, they at least shouldn’t have a teacher who allows obscenity in the classroom. I think our friend, Arizona State Senator Lori Klein’s bill to ban swearing in public school classrooms is a good idea, and I hope some members of the California Legislature will put this positive idea for advancing civil society into law in our state as well.