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...

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?

Asked on by sboeman

31 Answers

kapokkid's profile pic

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

Posted on

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.

howesk's profile pic

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

Posted on

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.

marilynn07's profile pic

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

Posted on

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 attention is given either way, and it is safe for everyone to participate in the reading of the literary work.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

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. 

fernholz's profile pic

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

Posted on

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.

tolchowy's profile pic

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

Posted on

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.

drrab's profile pic

drrab | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

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.

cbetances's profile pic

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

Posted on

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.

booboosmoosh's profile pic

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

Posted on

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.

psmortimer's profile pic

psmortimer | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

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.


jashley80's profile pic

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

Posted on

 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.

rskardal's profile pic

rskardal | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

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.

jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

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.

jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

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.

linda-allen's profile pic

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

Posted on

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.

Showing 1–15 of 31