Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Curses and jokes in the classroom

At Louisiana State University, Teresa Buchanan, a tenured professor in early-childhood education, has been fired for creating “a ‘hostile learning environment’ that amounted to sexual harassment.” She is charged with having done so by cursing, using vulgar language, and telling an ill-considered joke. Did Buchanan show poor judgment? I’d say so. The article at the link notes that at the time of complaints, she was going through a divorce and “was a bit looser with her language.” But do her remarks call for dismissal? Hell no. LSU’s decision serves the deepen the element of self-censorship in academic life — the fear of saying something or teaching a text because someone, for some reason, might take offense.

My language in the classroom was usually, almost always, free of curse words and vulgarity, though when struggling with inadequate classroom technology, I would occasionally tell my students (for comedic effect) that various choice words were running through my head. My proudest moment of cursing in the classroom involved a response to something left, unerased, on the blackboard. I would like to think that my curse helped create the exact opposite of a “hostile learning environment.”

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