Tahlequah Daily Press


February 18, 2012

Coaches, teachers, journalists and other potty-mouths

“Dang.”Did that offend anybody? No? Then try this: “Criminy!” Anything at all? Let’s try one more time: “Oh, darn.”

A couple of you may be irritated, but all I’m hearing in my mind’s ear are those infernal crickets. That’s probably because I’m not an Arizona teacher. And if I were one of those foul-mouthed, filthy-minded, cuss-up-a-blue-streak curs dragging young minds into the gutter in the Grand Canyon State, I’d be using a word stronger than “dang.” Although I like “dang.” And “criminy,” too. They have such a Gary Larson ring to them.

Arizona Sen. Lori Klein needs to write dialogue bubbles for comics, because I’d prefer to think she’s a satirist rather than a serious politician. The Klein – um, woman – is the main sponsor of a bill that calls for the termination of trash-talking teachers. Klein’s a Republican, the “party of less government” – unless, as some argue in these politically absurd days, it comes to a woman’s – um, reproductive organs? – and free speech.

Arizona teachers must have a peculiar propensity for gutter talk. I know dozens and dozens of teachers, some since I was in grade school. My husband’s sister and her husband are educators; my brother’s wife used to be one. My dad’s brother, Joe, is a retired teacher/coach. I’ve never even heard most of those folks utter a four-letter word outside of school, and in any case, I can think of very few I don’t hold in the highest regard.

I have no business in a public school classroom, and not just by Klein’s standards. While I may not be quite as ugly as the proverbial homemade soap,I should keep a few bars for oratory iniquity. That’s typical of someone in the newspaper industry, and anyone who says otherwise is – well, a dad-gum liar.

My mom never uses four-letter words, and my dad rarely does (at least, not in front of us “kids”). Such garbage would never past the lips of my grandmothers, whose only interjections were “Dear John!” and “I’ll swan!” Grandma Ashlock was invoking St. John; I haven’t a clue what Grandma Poin-dexter meant by “I’ll swan!”

When I was 5, Grandma Ashlock had taken my sister, Lisa, and me to a park by her home. On the storm drain someone had spray-painted the “f-bomb,” and since I could read, I began sounding out the word. The guttural “k” was about to roll off my tongue when my grandmother grabbed me and said, in a tone of  horror: “Oh, Kim! Don’t ever, EVER say that word, or you’ll go to HELL!” (I use “hell” here as a reference to a nasty plane of existence, biblically speaking, and not as an invective.) Despite my questioning, she adamantly refused to explain what it meant, just that it was the “favorite word of the devil.”

By the time I was in sixth grade, I not only knew the definition of “the devil’s word,” I knew it was generally employed as a verb. I knew a lot of other words, too, but not from teachers or my family. Other students, whose fathers weren’t as good at concealing their swearing proclivities from their kids as my father may have been, happily passed them along. And, h... heck, that is – I have to admit, in the occasional heated moment, I may use one or two of these words. Sometimes the moment isn’t even that heated.

But I respect the sensitivities of others, and I didn’t use those words around my son. Well, not when he was young – or not often, anyway. When Cole was little, if someone uttered a curse word in his presence, he would yell, “OMMM! You said a quest word!” Then he would tattle to any other adult in the vicinity, sometimes suggesting the offender get a “spanking.” Now he’s 23, and he also needs the bar of soap, apparently having received too few spankings in his youth.

Maybe Klein has a kid who brought home a “D” on his report card, so she’s angling for revenge. Or maybe she got a vivid tongue-lashing from a teacher who got tired of her bull – er, hockey – at the statehouse. Or maybe she just can’t tolerate any blasphemy. But she needs to – as the Aretha Franklin character warned in “The Blues Brothers” – think about the consequences of her actions.

Let’s say in September 2012, some kid jumps out from a boom closet at school and hollers, “Boogity-boogity-boogity!” at a teacher, thus eliciting the Germanic slang for human excrement. That’s strike one, for which the nonplused educator could get a week’s suspension without pay. Maybe the teacher (whose pay was meager enough without the punitive paring) says nothing more contentious than “dagnabbit” or “aw, shucks” until December 2014, when he trips over an extension cord, hits his mouth on the corner of a desk, and mutters “d--nit!” after he spits two of his teeth onto his palm. He’s just swung the bat a second time. A year later, he’s overheard to say the schools are “in deep [poo],” whereupon he is summarily sacked.

I’m not old enough to remember when the Führer and Il Duce were kicking around across the pond. But I can read history books, and unless the revisionists have gotten to them already, I think we can draw a few parallels.

We can’t outlaw everything we find offensive. I’m repelled when I see a guy cast a finger into a nostril, reel in the catch, and consume the carp, but we have no laws against it. Can’t the superintendent just give the wayward teacher a good talking-to, and take more drastic measures if that doesn’t work?

One thing might stop Klein’s bill from gaining traction. Coaches are teachers, too, and without them, the good people of Arizona will be hearing crickets on field and court.

Shoot-fire. I don’t guess teachers in Oklahoma or Texas have much to worry about.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.

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