View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Language advisory

I have mentioned that there has been an issue at school that is eating up a lot of my time and energy - and causing me to lose sleep. As principal I'm stuck in the middle of it.

One part of the problem is a particular student's use of racial language - including the "N" word (and some others). He had been first told not to use such words, then given a warning when he did it again and a note was sent home, and finally was going to be receive "in-school suspension" (i.e. sit in my office for one day and do all his work there) when he uttered the "N" word yet again.

The reprimand was for not only his language mind you, but also his actions and disrespect for teachers - including hitting other students, giving teachers the finger, bullying, defying authority, refusing to follow directions, destruction of school property, etc. But the language incident was last straw.

The idea was not so much to punish him as to try to impress on him the seriousness of his actions. He's only a fourth grader (!) with low impulse control, and reminders, words and warnings, visits to my office, notes and phone calls home, time out, loss of recess, etc., were not working.

His parents blew up. They fixated on just the language incident. The punishment was too severe. He was being picked on by the staff. He's only a little boy with too much energy. People should be fired.

Now were this a public school with lots of kids and families, this would be less of a concern. But being a small private school with lots of parental power, and the community that supports the school being close-knit, it has become a major confrontation.

I've had several meetings with trustees trying to save one teacher's job in particular.

But at the latest meeting, one trustee told me that the word the boy used was not as bad as swearing, after all.

?!?#%$!! (Vulgar term only!)

I politely, but strongly disagreed. I told him that I thought racial slurs were far worse than vulgar language, and that racial language was dealt with severely at any school where I have taught. Such terms could lead to violence - I told him the most violent fight I ever had to break up at another school was when a white student called a black student by that term, leading to two of us staff members having to physically restrain the students to avoid people getting hurt, and both students being expelled (albeit, for the fighting). I told them it was common for students to be suspended for using continuing to use such language.

(Later, I realized that I could have said that racial slurs are "violent" and show disrespect, even contempt for people, and that's part of what makes them worse that mere vulgar expressions. But I didn't think of it at the time.)

I surprised them. I don't think it had ever occurred to them. Mind, you, this is a very sheltered religious community that runs the school.

I mentioned this language situation to my wife, and she agreed that racial slurs were worse than vulgar language. That's all well and good, but in terms of running the school, I have to report to the trustees, and if they don't think such language is a big deal, I have to follow their dictates.

Any thoughts out there?


At least another two meetings coming up involving trustees and teachers caught up in the dispute. There still might be at least one job on the line.

One fellow teacher - who pointedly said he is staying out of this - remarked, "You wanted to be principal."

Pride cometh before the fall - or the school year!

Thank God for a three-day weekend.


Anonymous Mary Kay said...

will keep you in prayer.

6:37 AM  
Blogger Ben Anderson said...

well regardless of how bad anyone thinks it is, he better stop using it for his own sake or someone's gonna clock him one eventually.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Eileen Loveman said...

You remember the story about the starfish? The little girl who kept picking it up from the shore and throwing it back into the water? When asked why did she bother doing that, it didn't really make a difference since there were so many others? "It makes a difference to that starfish" she answered.

I say, stand by your starfish and teach him the right way. Clearly there are other factors influencing him -but he needs to see another way. Even if he doesn't acknowledge he 'gets' it, he will. Good luck and God bless :)

9:48 AM  
Blogger Lora said...

I always found racial slurs, as well as kids using "gay" as a derogatory term much more offensive than dropping a cuss word. It baffles my mind that racial words aren't looked at as a big deal there!

1:47 PM  
Blogger Persis said...

I think what bothers me most about this is the attitude of the parents-

"It's not my little angel! Fire the teacher!"

What are these parents thinking?! And what are they teaching their child?

Not to sound cliche, but children do indeed learn what they live, and it seems that they think that they can do whatever they want, without any consequences. And when people like Michael Vick, David Letterman, et al, "get away" with bad behavior and make money and gain fame while doing so, can we really blame these kids?

It sounds as though this child is a bully, with no respect for anyone, especially himself.
I applaud you for trying to "teach" rather than "punish", yet it seems that neither the child nor his parents think they need to "learn" anything.

How very, very sad!

I will pray for you and all involved.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous DN said...

It sounds like what you need to stress is that this is part of a violent and abusive *pattern*. It's not about this one incident, right? Don't let them control the conversation that way, if it's not the case. If they won't hear it on grounds of the seriousness of the racial slur, you need to press what it means in context with his other actions and habits, especially as regards his disobedience to teachers and classroom disruption. So it seems to me.

(By the way, you don't say, was this word used in reference to another student?)

1:52 AM  

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