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Do you censor yourself when reading questionable words or passages aloud?I tend to just...

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sboeman | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted December 9, 2010 at 1:25 PM via web

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Do you censor yourself when reading questionable words or passages aloud?

I tend to just read a book verbatim, respecting the authors' word choice and voice; however, I have at times had some hesitance when reading certain passages, such as from "The Kite Runner", "Huckleberry Finn", and a couple select stories that I often teach.  How do others deal with this?  Avoid it?  Read those passages quietly?  Other ideas?

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 9, 2010 at 1:59 PM (Answer #2)

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I also tend to read a book verbatim, and encourage the class to do the same.  It is part of author intent, for one thing, and also part of language education.  That is, I think it's important for us to teach students the power of words, the place of words, timing, context, all of it, rather than reinforcing simple fear of words or taboos associated with them.  We have an entire discussion about racial slurs in my Ethnic Studies class, and we also study the Civil Rights Era extensively.  They cannot understand that era, and the feelings and prejudices people held without hearing the N-Word in all its ugliness.  At the same time, they learn how powerful that word is, and the damage it can cause.  In this way, they can choose not to use such language, as opposed to simply being told not to.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 9, 2010 at 2:05 PM (Answer #3)

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What I tend to do is to put passages that have objectionable words up on overheads and such.  Of course, I don't teach literature and so that might not work for you.  But, for example, when I teach about the First Amendment, I'll put up songs (that I've heard of from the students) with "obscene" lyrics.  I'll use dashes for the words.  That way, I don't have to say the word and they don't have to hear it.  That's my compromise...

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reiton | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted December 9, 2010 at 2:25 PM (Answer #4)

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I try to respect the maturity level of the child.  Currently, I am using The 7 Habits Highly Effective Teens in my classroom.  I have avoided parts of the book since I only work with seventh graders.  I don't look at this so much as censoring as I do as presenting developmentally appropriate material to my students.  If I have a part of a novel that might be objectionable,  I am prepared with how I will address the content prior to reading it with my students.  How an author uses language to tell a story is an important and difficult concept for many students to grasp.  If we alter the language, we alter the message of the book.  For older students, certain passages that might be considered objectionable by one faction or another are excellent doors into understanding different cultures and ways of life.  These passages can lead to excellent discussions.  What was going on in these cultures or is going on in these cultures that makes this content relative to the story and believable.  A book written about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina would not be believable if the language and content is sugar coated.  Authentic language will tell a story worth examining and discussing in order to understand the driving forces behind the tale.  So, my advice is to plan ahead.  Know how you are going to address the objectionable material, especially if it is a critical element of the plot.  If the material is developmentally inappropriate, select something else.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted December 9, 2010 at 4:39 PM (Answer #5)

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I spend a good portion of my intruction and discussion in my AP Literature (and my other literature classes for that matter) on the issue of author intentionality.  As critical readers we try to get to the heart of why author's make the choices they do -- and that includes all the language.  I am lucky to have a  17-18 year old audience, but even there, there are students who could find the language objectionable.  That is when we can have the most interesting conversations about why an author would make the choice in diction.  While I don't teach the novel anymore, I remember some great discussions about who does and who doesn't use the n-word in To Kill a Mockingbird. THAT is an interesting thing to think about.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 10, 2010 at 5:13 AM (Answer #6)

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I must admit I just leave the words as they are. I think part of being a student of literature is recognising the word choice of the author and thinking about why in particular the author chose to use those particular words in that particular context. To me, key to analysing literature is recognising that the product that we are presented with is the result of a series of careful choices by authors, and analysing is unpacking the reason for those choices - swear words or no swear words.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 11, 2010 at 9:33 AM (Answer #7)

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I have yet to come across any word that high school or college students have not seen--let alone used.  The problem that occurs in having students read certain things is usually a result of someone's having NOT read the book.  Then, when he/she receives a bad grade, the parent finds the book "objectionable" and complains to the superintendent or principal. 

So, it is best to confine one's selections for reading to what is on the state's approved list. Then, if there are "objectionable" words or passages, the teacher is protected.   

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kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted December 11, 2010 at 3:06 PM (Answer #8)

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I agree with earlier postings that teaching the context, history and intentionality of language is preferable to editing. We are in the business of educating, and challenging content needs to be sensitively dealt with, but dealt with nonetheless. Great literature, I was once told, usually centres on one or both of our most taboo subjects - sex and/or death. We should present texts as is, then allow students to make their own decisions on their responses to it. We do have an obligation to our younger students to keep texts within appropriate limits, but with students who read and comprehend at an adult level, we should treat them as such. 

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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted December 12, 2010 at 8:53 AM (Answer #9)

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I think that you have to look at the ages of the students, hopefully you have chosen books for younger students that do not have this as a problem. I realize that some literature taught at the high school level has some inappropriate language, I think you needs to address this up front with the students and explain how they are suppose to be mature enough to handle these types of issues. Also make sure your Administration knows about it, as they may get calls from parents.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 12, 2010 at 12:18 PM (Answer #10)

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That depends on the book and the audience.  For instance, if I were reading to my very immature sophomores, perhaps.  My seniors, on the other hand, not so much.  I will never forget my third year of teaching in North Carolina when I was reading aloud from The Catcher in the Rye to my seniors.  The principal slipped in to observe me as I was reading.  I didn't censor myself, but I could feel myself blushing profusely...Holden Caulfield's mouth is not the most pristine.  At any rate, at the end of the reading, Mr. Gainey smiled and said, "I have known people like Holden was talking about, haven't you, Mrs. Lepore?"  Phew!  :)

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celtic1108 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted December 13, 2010 at 11:18 AM (Answer #11)

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Like many others have commented, I read the book, passage, poem verbatim. How can I expect students to read something on their own and deal with the language when I am not dealing with it. If a particular issue arises, then we discuss it at length. I am thinking of a particular scene in The Bluest Eye. We are to learn from these scenes and this language. We learn nothing if we censor it. If I know a particular reading will bother students, we discuss it at length. Someone previously mention Huck. Finn as an example. Before an issue with the language arises, we discuss it. What does it mean? Why is it bothersome? Why do people still use this language if it is so bad....

You get the point. Literature is meant to offend a little. If it does not then it is not doing its job. In order to learn from literature you must be confronted with some not-so-nice ideals.

As for the audience, if they are not mature enough to handle me reading through an awkward passage then they are not mature enough to handle the reading.

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sroach | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 14, 2010 at 5:57 PM (Answer #12)

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If there are aspects of a selected book that make the reader uncomfortable--I'm thinking of a certain theater scene in Native Son--it is safe to say the author intended that reaction, so if we avoid talking about that part, we are doing the lit, and the students, a disservice. My students crave the opportunity to discuss why something is appropriate or not, who decides, and the power of language--because often they don't know the meaning or impact of the words they toss around so lightly. No one has ever really talked about them other than to say, "Don't say that."

Thus far I've been able to handle every parental concern, but I am aware that could change.  The safe route would be to avoid anything remotely controversial, but my students want to read works that are relevant and real, and it is virtually impossible to read lit about war, abuse, poverty, or racism without some harsh language being part of the mix.

"Language" is often the excuse given for shelving a book when the real intent is to avoid its ideas.  Author Chris Crutcher argues this on his website; it is the reason he chose to write The Sledding Hill without any racy language or sex. Crutcher wanted to prove that it is the ideas in his books that most often are under attack, but language becomes the scapegoat.  While I know I have veered away from the original question of censorship when reading aloud, I did so because it is a question that is the tip of a much bigger iceberg.

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted December 15, 2010 at 9:19 AM (Answer #13)

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I don't censor myself--I censor the material. I will not read aloud any language that I wouldn't ordinarily use myself. I'm concerned about the amount of profanity we hear in movies, on television, and in music. Language that would have gotten my generation suspended is now part of everyday speech. Even the vice president of the US used the "f" word in a press conference. Our society is becoming more and more vulgar, and I don't want to contribute to it.

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted December 15, 2010 at 9:37 AM (Answer #14)

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I agree with the posters who write that they read aloud what's on the page. My first thought is that to do anything less would be to bowlderize the text. I'm not sure I'm entirely consistent in that thought, though.

With my students, the most objectionable language seems to be that which, in their eyes, violates the one of the first Commandments ("Do not take the name of the Lord in vain"). I mostly teach 20th-century American literature, and I'm more aware than ever just how often modern iterary works include phrases that many people find offensive on religious grounds. I like to refer to the text frequently in class, and I don't shy away from any words or phrases, but I also try to make sure that students are never expected to say things that they find objectionable. I tell students that if they are reading a passage aloud in class, for example, and don't want to say a word or phrase, they don't have to. I won't skip anything when I'm reading aloud, but who am I to say that they can't.

On a side note, I'm not a big fan of the whole idea of authorial intent. (A number of posters have named authorial intent as an item of central concern here, so my closing comment is not off topic.) I know that I use language all the time in ways that I don't fully control or fully intend -- or even fully understand! -- and I'm sure that even the most accomplished authors do the same. We usualy don't have access to the author beyond what's in the text itself, so it' s often a logically sound move to avoid speculating about authorial intent and to focus instead on the text and on our reception of the text.

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sroach | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 16, 2010 at 2:06 PM (Answer #15)

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I do not suggest we guess what an author "might" have intended, but when an author includes strong language in a published text, there was a reason. With published work an author revises so much, editors question the extraneous and the unnecessarily controversial--anything that might negatively impact sales, and the author may even have to defend a choice or demand that something be left in. We do have to read the text as it is before us, and if it has curses or controversy, we have to examine them as part of the text.

Author Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow and Children of God) met with my students once. The kids asked why a main character, a priest, cursed throughout the book, and didn't she think more students would be able to read it in school if she took those words out.  Her response was that Emilio needed to curse; that doing so showed his background coming through & that he wasn't perfect; that at times cursing was the most realistic way to convey his reaction to an event; that taking those words out would change the character and subsequently make the story less real. She said she did not design her writing for the sales figures, though she acknowledged some writers have to. She also said she has no control over how someone is going to "take" her writing, and so she doesn't write for her readers, but rather that she writes what she is moved to from within.

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted December 16, 2010 at 2:30 PM (Answer #16)

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I do not suggest we guess what an author "might" have intended, but when an author includes strong language in a published text, there was a reason. With published work an author revises so much, editors question the extraneous and the unnecessarily controversial--anything that might negatively impact sales, and the author may even have to defend a choice or demand that something be left in. We do have to read the text as it is before us, and if it has curses or controversy, we have to examine them as part of the text.

Author Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow and Children of God) met with my students once. The kids asked why a main character, a priest, cursed throughout the book, and didn't she think more students would be able to read it in school if she took those words out.  Her response was that Emilio needed to curse; that doing so showed his background coming through & that he wasn't perfect; that at times cursing was the most realistic way to convey his reaction to an event; that taking those words out would change the character and subsequently make the story less real. She said she did not design her writing for the sales figures, though she acknowledged some writers have to. She also said she has no control over how someone is going to "take" her writing, and so she doesn't write for her readers, but rather that she writes what she is moved to from within.

You make a really good point that I hadn't considered. I remember reading letters between Hemingway and his editor in which the author -- just like you said -- had to defend his choice of words.

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rskardal | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted December 23, 2010 at 11:45 AM (Answer #17)

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Generally, I try to respect the author's original language. If profanity will be included, I will usually preface the reading with a statement about the class's maturity. I've yet to have a problem, but I think mwestwood has a good point when she suggests that the safest route is to use the materials that have been approved by your school board or state.
Ryan

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jashley80 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted December 26, 2010 at 9:21 PM (Answer #18)

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 The only times I tend to read aloud are passages to friends or colleagues (in which cases I read verbatim) or to students (and I have previewed the text first). With students, if there are certain words that I find offensive or inappropriate in some way, I will preface the reading with a "heads up" to students, reminding them to keep the words in context and with the time frame of the text in mind.

If there is something I find so intense that I am embarassed or offended by it, then I probably would not include it in the classroom - that is not to say that I would leave out the text, but I may instead place a single line through text on xerox copies, or I will discuss the nature of the passage in advance and have students read it independently, later to discuss in pairs and as a class.

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psmortimer | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted December 30, 2010 at 9:12 PM (Answer #19)

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I, too, think it depends upon the book and the audience. If the student wants to censor a particular word or phrase for a valid reason, then I think it's fine. If the book is completely inappropriate for students, then it shouldn't be in the classroom in the first place.

I think it is important for students to get a grip on the reality of the way people speak in certain situations and therefore, I would read it as is.

 

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 31, 2010 at 6:39 PM (Answer #20)

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Well, I must admit that I am unable to use the n- word if reading To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or even "A Rose for Miss Emily." I know I am not the only person to find the word unpleasant, but I am so mortified for the experiences persons of color have had to endure over the years (which I can in no way begin to appreciate), where this word may have been yelled out of a car window, or whispered anonymously in a classroom setting, that I will not use it even for the sake of the integrity of a piece of literature. I explain my stance to my students, and we don't use it out of respect for others.

I do have regard for the author's word choice, and understand that these words are included for a specific purpose. I follow my own comfort level, hoping always to avoid allowing even a hint of separation within my classroom by uttering this word.  Once said, I fear that a curtain will fall that makes someone feel embarrassed; developing an unique classroom environment for the specific students in each class is something I support vigorously.

This is where I feel most comfortable, and whether students are concerned over the word or not, at least they know where I stand.

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wfpkalumna | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 6, 2011 at 6:05 PM (Answer #21)

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This topic is especially relevant given the news that Mark Twain's novels will be revised to no longer include derogatory terms. I have often debated this very topic with my students, and I always get varying points of view. However, overwhelmingly, my African American students argue that they cringe when a white instructor says the n-word when reading, and many of them prefer that we not repeat the word. I respect and value that opinion, so I have decided that I will not read the inflammatory words any longer.

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cbetances | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted January 15, 2011 at 1:57 PM (Answer #22)

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I mostly read exactly what is on the page, except for when there is a racial slur involved. For example, when reading "Of Mice and Men", I just cannot bring myself to say the "n-word". I will let my students say the word, if they are comfortable, when reading. I always try and address the language in a respectful way.

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drrab | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted January 21, 2011 at 8:10 PM (Answer #23)

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I think the answer lies in your question. What kind of words are "objectionable?". By whose standards? Should we really make value judgements regarding what constitutes an acceptable word over what constitutes objectionable?  Even Chaucer said to quote accurately. So, I read what is written, exactly.

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deannashelor | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 24, 2011 at 9:40 AM (Answer #24)

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I prefer not to censor myself when I read questionable words or passages because I am a purist about the value of the literature and a definite defender of the first amendment.  However, I have worked in a community in the South that prohibited me from saying the word "hell" while reading The Crucible or "nigger" while reading Faulkner.  The principal got calls from parents about me "cussing" in the classroom.  Much depends on where you are teaching.  In fact students get a kick out of hearing their teacher say the words.

The way I dealt with such words and passages in the southern school was to give a discussion of authorship and context, which is appropriate in any case, and I said the first letter of the word.  I would have students read the passages in groups and discuss how the passages made them feel.  We would then discuss as a class.  We did not miss the meanings and the historical background but I did feel stifled as a teacher in that environment.

I feel that as teachers, especially as teachers of literature, it is our charge to enlighten and to expand students' world view.  That happens naturally when reading a variety of novels.  What high school senior has not felt a sense of commonality with Holden Caufield?  What high school junior or sophomore has not been deeply moved by Scout? It is indeed a disservice to both students and the teacher to self-censor by interrupting the sonorous flow of exceptional literature.

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missbennet | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 29, 2011 at 5:55 PM (Answer #25)

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This is an interesting question given the current climate of "let's not offend anyone."  No, I do not censor myself.  In the case of books such as Huckleberry Finn or The Secret Life of Bees, I begin the unit by confronting objectionable language and explain that while I am uncomfortable with some of the words the author uses, they are his (or her) words, and I am not changing them.  I've gotten to participate in many interesting and dynamic discussions thanks to the emotions that get stirred by some authors' language.  So long as the students are not disrespectful to each other, I let them talk.  But I would never, ever censor the author.  Ever.  How could I presume to do it better than Twain or Salinger?

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tolchowy | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted January 30, 2011 at 1:36 PM (Answer #26)

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Do you censor yourself when reading questionable words or passages aloud?

I tend to just read a book verbatim, respecting the authors' word choice and voice; however, I have at times had some hesitance when reading certain passages, such as from "The Kite Runner", "Huckleberry Finn", and a couple select stories that I often teach.  How do others deal with this?  Avoid it?  Read those passages quietly?  Other ideas?

If I feel that there are words within a text that could offend students within the classroom or words that are offensive in general I would prepare my students for the fact that these words are present.  We would talk about what the inclusion of these words reveals to us about the setting of the story, the time period in which the story was written or the intention of the author in including the words.  I would never just gloss over them or edit them.  They are in the text and they should be addressed.

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fernholz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted January 31, 2011 at 10:26 AM (Answer #27)

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As a middle school reading teacher it's important to consider the maturity level of the students. Some of my classes would be able to handle certain passages of a story, other classes would not. I would substitute similar words in place of those that could be misinterpreted. On the other hand I rarely do this, because I don't want to change the author's word choice.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 2, 2011 at 12:43 PM (Answer #29)

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I do not censor myself when reading aloud.  Sometimes, however, I will choose what I read aloud carefully.  I usually begin a book that will have controversial vocabulary, such as Of Mice and Men or Huckleberry Finn, by reading aloud.  I read enthusiastically, without shame or discomfort.  This sends the message that these words are used in the context of the story, and there is nothing wrong with reading them.  In my opinion, censoring the words is more likely to draw attention to them.  I always hold frank discussions with my class about why these words were used by the author in the first place.  Sometimes just having the students consider why the words make them feel uncomfortable is a good exercise.

I do allow children to censor themselves, however.  I allow them to skip the word entirely or replace it with another.  In this way, students can read aloud without saying words they do not feel comfortable saying.  I do not call attention to these skipped words, and usually the other students do not either.  If you are reading a book like The Catcher in the Rye and you are uncomfortable swearing or having kids swear, you can purchase an audio recording and play it instead. 

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marilynn07 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted February 2, 2011 at 1:04 PM (Answer #30)

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I typically send a note home to parents if there are going to be four-letter words, or swearing, in the text of the literary piece. Most students are familar with the language, but not when the language is used in literary context.  I also send a copy of the letter to the principal so that there are "no surprises" when the literary piece comes under discussion.  I had a very rude awakening my first year teaching with a book that was on the school's accepted list of literature, but which had not ever been used due to the language.  Parents were in an uproar and the principal was blind-sided.  Needless to say, I did keep my job because the book was on the approved reading list, had it not been, I probably would have been dismissed from my position.

I read the work the way the author wrote it. I allow students to skip substitute the letter of the word rather than another "substitute" swear word.  Example: .......f-word.....  or .....s-word....  Those who prefer not to say that may simply skip over the word...no attention is given either way, and it is safe for everyone to participate in the reading of the literary work.

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howesk | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted February 3, 2011 at 11:01 AM (Answer #31)

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If the classroom is not the best place for students to encounter and face "objectionable language" than where is? I think it is crucial for students to have the correct forum to discuss language and content that might be deemed inappropriate, and for students to be informed about the context of the things they are reading. My students use worse language in the hallways than anything they'd hear in my American lit course. I think part of the reason for this is that the censorship of language has dulled its impact. Rather than students gaining awareness of the words they use, they use them as if they have no meaning.

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kapokkid | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 5, 2011 at 5:20 AM (Answer #32)

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I always struggle with this one, since I don't ever swear, I generally censor myself or even will have a student read.  Particularly if I have a senior class or older and more mature students, I know they use that type of language all the time and certainly aren't going to be offended by it so I don't worry too much.

I end up having more conversations about whether or not they can include it in their writing.

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mojoutd | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 18, 2011 at 8:57 AM (Answer #33)

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There are times, when it seems to me that I should be careful.  I have on occasion even hesitated with the word Negro--which when read from Doctor Martin Luthor King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"  didn't seem excessive, but was for me a little difficult to read.  Now in the past, I read "Everything that Rises must Converge" By Flannary O'Connor, and it felt right to read those words as part of the stories context.  But I have at times hesitated.

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