ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--"The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing," said George Washington, "is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it." It seems the leadership of a public school in Albany, Ore., agrees with America's first president on the subject of profanity.
Brent Belveal, in his first year as principal of South Albany High School, has enacted a ban on cursing. Penalties for violating the profanity policy range from in-school suspension to multi-day removal from school, depending on context.
One student was suspended because foul language was directed at a teacher.
"[It] became more than language as it escalated into a multiple-day suspension out-of-school for defiance-disrespectful behavior," Belveal told the Albany Democrat-Herald.
The ban was instituted because staff members told the new principal that profanity was a major problem on the campus. Belveal met with every class and outlined the policy and how it would be enforced.
Belveal indicated that part of the school's job was to prepare students for future job situations. Most employers, he said, do not tolerate foul language. "We're trying to help you learn to be productive employees," Belveal told students.
The staff, too, is included in the profanity ban. "It's not OK for us, either," Belveal said. Since the crackdown on language began being enforced on Sept. 29, five students have run afoul of the new rules. South Albany has an enrollment of approximately 1,300 students.
It is a shame that a public school has to take measures to curb cursing. I believe the best place to police language is the home. However, disrespectful language should not be tolerated anywhere. Hence, South Albany is taking steps to address an obvious problem.
It has become clear that American popular culture has become far too crude.
Movies and television programs intended for general audiences once contained no profanity. Now you are hard pressed to find mass media that is void of crass content. Cursing, as a result, has trickled down and stained daily discourse. Language that was uttered only by tough-talking men is now routinely heard at the mall, the park and the public school.
Cursing has been around as long as communication itself, but until recently its frequent and public use has been frowned upon. Once, those who flaunted vulgar words and phrases were considered to be rude, crude or socially inept -- and sometimes all three.
South Albany's decision to crack down on cursing comes on the heels of a California student's efforts at starting a no-cussing club at his school. While in junior high school, McKay Hatch started a club to address the vulgar language that permeated his school.
"A lot of kids at my school, and some of my friends, would cuss and use dirty language all the time." Hatch said. "They did so much they didn't even realize they were doing it." When Hatch told his friends that the cursing bothered him, he said, "They were shocked."
Last year Hatch's efforts drew the media's attention and at least two California municipalities adopted "no-cussing weeks" to encourage the use of clean language.
Some would argue that words, even if they are vulgar, are just words and as such can't do harm. Words, however, convey thoughts and ideas. I suggest that the unfettered use of profanity reveals at least three things about an individual.
One, it indicates a lack of control. A person that allows foul language into every conversation reveals a lack of discipline. If you can't control your vocabulary, what else can't you control?
Second, a person that relies on cursing to express himself reveals a lack of creativity. There are all manner of ways of expressing a variety of emotions without the use of profanity. A dictionary or thesaurus can help expand one's vocabulary.
Finally, the use of vulgar language displays a lack of respect for everyone exposed to it. If I have regard for those I am speaking to, I am going to address them by choosing my words wisely.
John Heisman, legendary football player and coach, once told his team, "Don't cuss. Don't argue with the officials. And don't lose the game." The man for whom the Heisman Trophy is named understood that cursing is helpful to no one. George Washington, McKay Hatch and the leaders of South Albany High School all agree. I only hope many more will embrace the same sentiment.
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Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.