“F***!” Dominique Gordon ’15 yelped in shock after a piece of celery hit her face in the middle of English class. Aaron Esagoff ’15 had thrown the piece to his friend who wanted celery, but accidentally hit Gordon instead. Immediately after she screamed the curse word, Gordon’s face turned bright red, and her first instinct was to apologize profusely to her English teacher, Isaac Laskin. After her classmates and Laskin erupted in laughter, Gordon was no longer embarrassed, but was laughing along with her class.
“Overall, it was just more funny than embarrassing, especially since [Laskin] just laughed and didn’t mind at all,” Gordon said.
In the Student Parent Handbook, a section called “Respecting the Rights of Others” says that “profanity or socially unacceptable langauge” is prohibited. However, students and teachers curse at school. Of the 386 students polled, 92 percent have heard their teachers curse. Most students and teachers try to filter their language in class in order to abide by the expected decorum of a school environment but do not do so outside of class.
Students attempt not to curse in class because they are afraid that they will not be regarded as well by their teachers or peers, or will get in trouble for cursing, Lucas Gelfen ’15 believes. Most teachers only get angry at their students for cursing when the word is unnecessarily violent, or simply unnecessary, but students still refrain from cursing in class in general.
Outside of class, however, cursing is a fairly common occurrence as students and teachers around campus use curse words in their daily vocabulary.
“Teachers do walk by and hear kids saying s*** or f***, and you don’t get in trouble for saying that in the lounge, but you also just don’t say that in class,” Jules Gross ’15 said.
Upper School Dean Beth Slattery says, however, that if she hears students outside of her office cursing repeatedly, then she will usually go outside and ask them to stop. Slattery believes that as students start to curse as an effort to look cool when they are younger, it eventually becomes a habit. Of the 368 students polled by the Chronicle, 63 percent curse out of habit, and 28 percent limit cursing to only when they are angry.
“I probably swear a lot,” Gross said. “Sometimes it’s out of frustration because I’m mad at something but a majority of the time it’s just because I use it in common phrases as part of my typical vocabulary.”
Unlike Gross who uses curse words regularly, Gelfen is more choosy about his cursing.
“Usually, [cursing] is just a way I get my frustration out,” Gelfen said. “I usually curse to myself, not out loud in front of a million people.”
Depending on the student and their teacher, many students have different opinions on cursing in the classroom.
“It totally depends on who the teacher is,” Gross said, “I’m comfortable enough with a few teachers that I can swear in a ‘PG’ kind of way, like ‘what the f,’ but most of them I don’t swear in front of.”
Students sometimes feel comfortable swearing if their teacher swears in the classroom as well, and students even enjoy when their teachers curse in class. Teachers also understand that students think that cursing makes them more relatable and enjoyable in class, which is why they sometimes curse, Laskin believes.
“I think that when teachers curse, it makes them more approachable,” Emily Kelkar ’15 said. “It makes them seem not that different from us.”
Others like when their teachers curse because they think it is entertaining, and it makes conversations in the classroom more personal and mature.
“I think it is funny when teachers curse because it is suprising and in some ways shows more of their personality because they aren’t censoring themselves,” Emma Kofman ’16 said. “It also feels more like a real conversation because we are treated more like adults.”
Overall, teachers try not to curse in front of their students, but sometimes teachers use curse words for emphasis or they say them accidentally, Laskin said. Teachers often curse to emulate a character trait in a book, or emphasize a point in their lesson.
“Sometimes cursing is an effective way to make a point,” Laskin said. “You can characterize a character’s behavior with a curse word, and it actually makes the point land better.”
Other teachers, however, do not believe in cursing in the classroom at all, with the exception of less extreme words like darn or hell.
“I believe in classrooms there should be a certain decorum, way of acting, and I think that restraint in our language is part of that,” Latin teacher Derek Wilairat said.
History teacher Celia Goedde believes that cursing in the classroom is completely innapropriate, eliminating a comfortable classroom environment.
“I do feel that tolerating cursing corrodes the inclusiveness that we work to build at school,” Goedde said. “Cursing has the potential to alienate people, particularly if the curse is directed at a person or a group of people.”
Goedde believes that cursing among teenagers is often used as a way for teenagers to distance themselves from parents or other authorities.
“As a historian, I know that cursing is as old as language, but it has become so pervasive in contemporary American popular culture that it is difficult for anyone to avoid,” Goedde said.
While Goedde believes that cursing disrupts the inclusive classroom environment, Laskin believes that cursing to make a certain point in class is understandable. Egregious cursing just for the sake of cursing, on the other hand, is unnecessary in class, he said.
“I would not like my classroom to devolve into cursing all of the time, but the well-placed curse word does not bother me,” Laskin said. “Generally speaking, any student or teacher with a sharp sense of decorum will probably be able to discern when it is okay to curse and when it isn’t.”
Many students believe that using curse words is acceptable, unless they are used excessively or to be cruel.
“I think that unless your cursing is negatively affecting someone, cursing is fine and there isn’t too much of it,” Gelfen said. “But when people use curse words to hurt other people, there should be an extremely low threshold [of tolerance].”
Slattery once overheard a student cursing about her to a friend outside of her office and brought him to the office of the Head of the Upper School at the time, Harry Salamandra.
“I think it’s very different to be name-calling using a curse word versus a non-directed exclamation,” Slattery said.