Linguistic Hygiene in Cobb County, Georgia

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat May 20 16:21:32 UTC 2006

>>From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cobb County's cursing policy absurd:  Tiered tolerance breeds disrespect


Published on: 05/18/06

Profanity is a problem in Cobb schools. Despite the enormous amount of
black ink wasted on discussing the serious ailments of the Cobb public
school system, I find myself in the middle of a surreal experience that,
in spite of my Southern roots, leaves me speechless.Always the outspoken
proponent for the public school systems, I've long been the lone ranger
among a sea of private school absolutists. Nonetheless, I've relied on
cutting-edge academic programs and wonderful, real-life examples of
teachers going out of their way to back up my argument.

Now, however, I am speechless. Understanding that many families choose
alternatives to Cobb's public schools because of environment, not
academics, I am absolutely astounded to learn county policy on excessive
use of profanity/disrespect. Although parents, administrators, even
secretaries, agree the issue is rampant at the middle and high school
levels, county policy for addressing it is ludicrous. The county touts a
graduated plan of discipline, outlining different levels of consequence
according to how offensive the profanity is.

For instance, one board member gave the example of a teenager calling an
administrator a "lame ass." The punishment, she said, was much less severe
than if they'd used the "f -word." As I sat in disbelief, wondering what
the board meeting must have been like as they debated whether "lame ass"
was less offensive than other profane names, I realized they missed the
entire point. The point isn't to control the tongues of the children.
Rather, it is to teach respect respect for a position of authority, such
as a teacher, whether you like the person in that position or not.

This is the same respect mandated in our court system today. Profanity of
any kind directed toward a judge garners steep consequences, regardless of
the level of offensiveness. Respect for authority is a fundamental
requirement to function in our society, regardless of background,
training, language, race or gender. Our dedicated public school educators
break their backs preparing Cobb's children for the "real world," yet are
burdened with policy that condones lesser degrees of offensiveness toward
them and their position. The board passes the buck by stating that
interpretation of policy is the responsibility of principals. Principals
point to the teachers and everyone blames the parents. It's not surprising
that the policy isn't working.

What's worse is that despite everyone's agreement that profanity is a
problem, the matter apparently will not be addressed by the board in the
next school year. Cobb's children can comprehend that the use of profane
language and disrespectful behavior are not tolerated in these settings.
But the message must be clear either it is accepted or it is not.

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