Today's paper tells us that a secondary school in Wellingsborough, Britain is to allow students to swear at their teachers. There's one condition: they are only allowed to do it five times per lesson.
As an ex-high school teacher (of one year!) myself, I realised long ago that the old phrase: "You wouldn't say that at home," is no longer true. When I conducted an after-school meeting to discuss the pretty-well total illiteracy of sixteen year old Damian, his father introduced himself to me as 'Animal.' Animal had apparently fathered Damian at fifteen: "A quick root after school and look what I ended up with," and had raised him on his own as a single father. "Christ it's f**king hard," he confided to me, "I'm not surprised the bloody bugger can't read, I can't hardly read nothin' either."
These days, as a mother who regularly picks up her child from school, I overhear conversations by other parents. Nadine greets her six year old daughter with: "How are you, you cheeky little s**t?" and envelops her in a tobacco-scented bear hug. It's difficult not to visibly cringe at this but one day I said the 'S word' when a car pulled out in front of me without any warning. "Mum! Don't say that - it's naughty!" admonished my daughter from her booster seat. "Sorry," I replied humbly. "You're right, it is wrong to say that. I was a bit shocked and it slipped out."
Have you taken a ride on your local bus recently? Teen-aged boys are the undisputed masters at slotting in f*** as a form of punctuation in every sentence. Two apprentice plumbers were in front of me, exaggerating their weekend exploits to each other: "...and then I f***en told him, I said f**k that s**t, I'm going to f**king do what I f**ken want to....", "Yeah", said his mate, empathetically. "F**k that for a f**king joke. I reckon we should just f**ken go and tell that f**ker that we're not going to f**ken take it anymore." Grandma Moses hobbled on board several stops later, and the two potty mouth pubescents immediately offered her their seat, politely said hello and lowered the volume of their f**kin' conversation.
But at school? Five times per lesson? Six or eight lessons a day? Is it during a normal conversation or as a way of addressing the teacher? Can the teachers use it to punk up their lessons? "So then, when Julius Caesar felt the knives in his back, he said, "Et tu Brutus, you f**king betraying prick!"
Will they be allowed to include at least five swear words in each piece of homework they submit? "So Burke and Wills were completely up s**t creek. Their mates were all f**king dead and they'd had it all up the a**e. They were drier than a nun's ****" Teacher's written comment: "That's some great s**t, Steven, and very well researched."
The F-Word has certainly made it into the every day work place. F is used to emphasise commitment and solid work in many a meeting. "Look, we've got to f**king work our a***s off or we're screwed!" Perhaps there are some canny consultants working on developing some new f**king buzzwords that will make it into companies' future mission statements very soon.....
My father was a high school teacher for many years and I'm regularly reminded of his view that swearing just shows that the person hasn't got the imagination to say anything more clever. My darling husband Love Chunks and I have made a concerted effort not to swear in front of our daughter and we mostly succeed. In fact I think we've ended up with an over zealous puritan who has been known to lecture my mother - her grandma - when she said that "Your Grandpa fell off his ladder whilst painting the shed today and really bruised his bum." (Sharp intake of shocked breath): "Ooooh Grandma! Don't say BUM, say bottom. Or maybe butt," she suggested helpfully.
Last night, as she was being tucked into bed, nightlight switched on and clutching her rather grubby Jessie-the-Cowgirl doll, I asked her: "Do you swear? Do you know what the F-word is?"
"No I don't Mum," she replied instantly. "And I do know what the F-word is."
"What is it?" I asked gingerly.
"It's (nervous pause)...it's, um.....well, are you sure I can say it out loud?"
"Of course, you know that you can tell me anything, as long as it's honest."
(Deep breath) "Well Mum, it's FAT. You should never, ever call anyone (pause)..... FAT."
I nodded and smiled at her. "You're right. That is a horrible word and no-one should ever be called it. Goodnight sweetie."
"Goodnight Mum." I gently closed the door, wondering - as I end up doing on an almost-daily basis - whether she could ever learn as much from me as I do from her.
Love Chunks was waiting in the lounge. "Everything OK?"
"Yeah. Let's hope the little f***er sleeps through the night, or I'll be feeling like s**t tomorrow."