Monday, October 31, 2011

"There is no sight quite so terrifying as ignorance in action" -Johann von Goethe

WARNING - Bad language ahead

You gotta love teenagers. They are often so smugly sure of their own brilliance, even when they make complete asses of themselves.

On a typical day, after I get off work, I pick up my two kids (aged 7 and 5) from school, and then when we get home, they love to play on the driveway. They ride their bikes, Ripsticks, and scooters on the driveway, climb the tree on the front lawn, and basically wind down. It is especially nice to do now that the Sacramento summer is over, and the late-afternoon weather is positively beautiful outside.

How angry I was then when on Friday afternoon (10/28), I looked down my street to see a pack of about ten teenagers from the local high school walking down the middle (literally, the middle) of the street. They were dressed in their finest slacker gear, with shaggy uncut hair spilling out their backwards baseball caps, and their skateboards being carried alongside their sagging skinny jeans. If that had been it, I would have tolerated it and moved on. What I could not tolerate was the filthy, vulgar language that was loudly pouring out of their mouths as they swaggered down my quiet residential street. I had to send my kids into the house, it was so bad.

As they walked past my house, I stood there on my driveway and watched them pass by; their filthy conversation continuing unabated as the words "fuck", "fucking", "motherfucker", and all other manner of words violated our quiet neighborhood.

I couldn't let this one go. I yelled, "Excuse me. Could you please not talk like this in our neighborhood? I just had to send my 7 and 5 year-old kids into the house so they wouldn't have to hear your foul language."

One of the boys turned toward me while continuing to walk, gave me a mocking salute, and said, "Yes, Sir!" in a very mocking and disrespectful fashion. One of the other boys yelled, "First Amendment, my friend! We can say whatever we want!"

I yelled in response, "First Amendment? I'm not the government! How about just common decency?!"

They continued walking.

And there it was, one of the major problems of our society on full display: The exercise of rights without regard to responsibilities. Although I could make an argument toward the budding lawyer's ignorant comment that you indeed do not have a right under the First Amendment to yell vulgarities as you walk down a residential street (disturbing the peace, anyone?), for the sake of argument, let's say that you did have that right. Should you exercise it? Where was that little voice inside their heads, that realization that perhaps cussing like that in front of my children wasn't exactly a good idea? Where was that sense of shame when confronted by me about it where instead of mocking me, they could have given a quick apology for possibly corrupting the innocence of my children, and moved on without further comment?

I wonder the same thing when I walk down the halls of the school at which I teach and listen to the atrocious and vulgar language uttered by my students as they flitter down the hallways and the lunch grounds outside.

When I am around my friends, do we cuss like sailors? On occasion, you bet! But the difference is that I do it out of earshot of my kids, and my friends' kids. And when I slip on occasion and say a bad word in front of my kids, such as when I drop something or hurt myself, I profusely apologize to them for having done it. I make sure they know that it is not OK to publicly cuss with abandon.

Too bad no one taught these boys the same lesson. Whether or not they learned anything, that lesson was left to me to give in front of my house on a Friday afternoon.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson


TeachJoeP said...

Rest assured that the same problem exists here in New England as well. Similar situation a few years ago at a public pool. Different outcome though, when I spoke to the two boys. One apologized, then shushed the other when he slipped and swore five minutes later. Perhaps it was that there were fewer in the "pack". Good for you for standing up for decency. Keep up the good fight.

Ricochet said...

Same in the South.

My common greeting to kids is "Watch your mouth." Apparently I have said it consistently enough over the past several years that they see me - and stop cussing. (I write them up regularly for cussing.)

The point that I make to the students is that I know the words, have used them in the past, can conjugate the verbs, and choose to not have my life polluted with it on a regular basis. And that if they cannot find other words to use, they may be facing unemployment in the future.

Unknown said...

In the beginning of my career, I had to hold a "group" on "not smoking" to gun-toting actual gang members in West Sacramento (one of them had done time in juvie for attempted murder and was on parole.) They were ALL about respect, so I made a demand that while they were out of class and in my group they would not swear. By the end of that group, when one of them slipped, they would apologize profusely. I ran into one of the students at downtown mall and when one of his friends started cussing he stopped the friend. I find it interesting that criminal gang members could learn to be more respectful than those middle class spoiled white kids. Can't say I'm surprised. Thanks for fighting the fight--we all benefit from that!

Larry Sheldon said...

There are two -- no, make that three very important points here.

Darren said...

Foul. Just foul.

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