Language in the classroom — it’s not quite that simple
Quote from La Canada Valley Sun story about sexual and racial harassment of students by a teacher: ”Spurred by complaints that the La Cañada High math teacher regularly used racist and sexist language in her classroom, officials presented a modified draft of the district’s code of ethics during a public meeting Monday.”
Think about this a minute. What will the “code of ethics” say? Will they ban particular words, and if so, which ones? Which race, and which sex, was the teacher’s victim? What words would be used to harass a girl? a boy? Which words would be used to harrass a Jew, a Hispanic, an African-American, a Caucasian? Is it a matter of words, or a matter of contexts. If it is a matter of context, how can you ban a context? Perhaps the code of ethics might stipulate that teachers “should be respectful toward their students.” There are many respectful ways of using a word like “nigger,” or “spic,” or “beaner;” for example, one could quote someone else using these words, or quote the words as they appeared in a movie. Perhaps the teacher is harassing students by choosing certain materials to study in the class. Which materials should be banned? I am giving my students Huckleberry Finn to read, which has the word “nigger” in it, and a disparaging view of people with dark skin. Should I withdraw the assignment?
Exercise: Devise in class a “Code of Ethics” for teachers and students in a your school. What guidelines could you create which would guaranty respectful exchanges between student and teacher? Would you want to simply take the subjects of race and gender/sex off the table? Would you ban particular words? Wouldn’t these two actions sanitize the classroom of subjects which would be very important to our society?