Taboo Talk

Back in the 1990s groups of people would gather at someone’s home to play games. Do people even do that any more? One of the games we used to play was Taboo.  The basic premise of the game was that one person would try to get the team to say a certain word without using a list of Taboo words.  If the speaker used one of the Taboo words, the person with the judge would “buzz” the taboo word, the team would not earn that point, and the speaker would go on to the next word.

Sometimes, as a teacher, I feel like I’m playing Taboo… which words are forbidden now? We teachers talk all day long… to students. We need to watch every word that dares to slip past our lips. It used to be the taboo words were limited to the typical cuss words and the N-word while teaching Twain or Lee. These days the list of taboo words is expanding… and it’s difficult to keep up.

I’ve seen several articles telling us teachers not to use words that identify our students as male or female.  This would eliminate “boys and girls,” “ladies and gentlemen,” “guys,” “gals,” “he, him,” “she, her,”  and the like. I felt like the Taboo buzzer got me one day early in this semester when I accidentally said “she” when referring to a male student who has long hair. I felt vindicated when a guest presenter in my class did the same thing!

I read another article today in which a mother complained to a store manager because a man used the female restroom.  The manager said that the store is not responsible because no one but the individual can determine the gender identity of that individual. So… should I ask which pronoun a student would prefer that I use?  I teach over 100 students a day… things can get complicated.

Diversity has become a popular topic to discuss these days… and I am not very good at determining whether a person is Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Columbian, African, Portuguese, or from the Dominican Republic. Just as it would be difficult to distinguish a person of German descent from an Irish, English, Russian, Swedish, Scottish, or Dutch person.  The people of Asian descent have as many differences as all of the others… so I just try to avoid the issue entirely because I am destined to get it wrong and will offend someone.  In normal society, getting it wrong is ok, you apologize and move on… as a teacher, you are hoping to avoid a lawsuit.

I read an article that asks teachers to stop referring to “people of color,” her words, as “minorities.” She stated that doing so diminishes the effect that those people can have on a group.  Ok, I see how she could take it that way, and being a person who tries to be very specific and purposeful with my words, I understand the connotation… but what if it is merely a fact?  What word are we permitted to use without offending someone?

As a Christian, it offends me when someone uses my Savior’s name as a curse word… but somehow, that’s ok.  I’m not permitted to be offended by that. However, when a student exclaims, “Jesus Christ!” in my classroom, I will kindly say (without sarcasm, I promise), “If you are praying, I will gladly join you, if you are not, please do not use my Savior’s name in that way.” Most of the time, they understand and try to avoid saying that in the future. Other times they simply have started exclaiming, “Cheese and Rice” – just to try to get a rise out of me.

Where am I going with this?  I’m not sure exactly… I guess I wanted to say that I understand that words are important and that words can be powerful… I just find it more difficult every day keeping up with the things I’m not allowed to say in my classroom.