Saturday, March 03, 2007

Bad words

The first grade celebrated Dr. Seuss's birthday yesterday and I read a couple of his books to Elegant's class: The Lorax, which is Dr. Seuss' call-to-arms about the environment and what we need to do to improve things. Consider it an elementary version of "An Inconvenient Truth." I also read Marvin K. Mooney, which is a cute little book that was my personal favorite as a child.

It was while reading The Lorax that something interesting occurred. In fact, I'm sure that one or two children even went home and mentioned it to their parents. There is a character called the Onceler and at one point he uses the word 'stupid' which the children immediately tsk tsked over and commented about how that wasn't very nice.

But then, about a paragraph later, the Onceler says something so profane that the children actually could not believe what their very own personal ears had just heard. There was a brief pause while the children were in temporary shock and had to perform self-CPR to restart their hearts. Then, a collective gasp from all 20 of them, followed by MUCH tsk tsking. I had to stop reading for a moment just so that everyone could comment about what the Onceler had said. How he didn't make a very good choice. How he wasn't very nice.

So what profanity did I sully the ears of six- and seven-year-olds with? What could Dr. Seuss have possibly written that would have horrified this darling group of children? Was is the s-word or the d-word? Did he sneak an f-bomb into one of his children's books? Oh no, it was worse, much worse.

The Onceler said, "Shut up."

Oooh, that is bad indeed. Very very bad. "Shut up" is not said in our elementary school because it is Very Offensive. Really. It's likely that some of these children have heard far worse words, but "shut up" is the one that had them all up in arms.

I'm not mocking the children, really I am not. I know that "shut up" is not technically a bad thing to say, nor is it even on the list that George Carlin once famously called "the seven words you can never say on television." There are many other elementary schools in Virginia and across the U.S. that do not have a rule about "shut up" and in the grand scheme of things it's not all that bad. However, "shut up" is rude and offensive and we don't use it in our house ever. I also grew up in a house where "shut up" was not allowed. I probably could have said some other foul words in our Baptist home, but "shut up" is would have definitely earned me some Big Trouble with my parents.

I love that in this day and age, manners are not lost. That courtesy is not dead. In ten years, this group of children will be in high school and some of them will use some truly dreadful language. Some will have tattoos, some will have multiple piercings. Some will smoke and some will be experimenting with drugs and alcohol. So for this moment in time, I am enjoying their innocence because it will be be gone soon enough.

Can you imagine what their reaction would have been if I had used the word "butt"?

No comments: