When we’re creating The Week in Rap, we often need to make tough decisions about what news stories to include. How much should students know about a real world where nightly news stories would almost certainly garner an R rating in a fictionalized version? This week we cover violence in Syria, a school shooting in Oakland, the legality of strip-searching and 750,000 deaths in the Civil War. We also talked about Day-Glo chicks.
Should students always get the real deal? The crusade to make students feel more comfortable at school is nothing to scoff at. Nobody wants a student to feel sad or ostracized. In the best case, a student who is upset has trouble focusing on learning. At worst, these children could feel uncomfortable, intimidated and they won’t want to come to school.
But there is a fine line between making sure students feel okay and censorship. Recently, some efforts to shield students from upsetting information have ironically led to an increase in student strife:
- “Bully,” a new documentary about the terrible effects of bullying, was slapped with an R rating, as a result of a scene when a bully uses the F-word. This means that the students who would need to see it most wouldn’t be allowed. A teen who was a victim of bullying started a petition at Change.org to give it a PG-13 rating to no avail. She hoped that bullies would gain a greater understanding of how they hurt people like her.
- A student was expelled from school after making a linguistic observation about the F-word. (The linguistics professor at my university made the same observation on the first day of class when I was a freshman.) But this kid’s school has a policy against profanity. The road to [bleep] is paved with good intentions, it seems. His intellectual curiosity means he can’t finish his senior year at his school.
- New York State wants to ban “loaded words” from tests that might upset certain students. These words include: Dinosaurs, birthdays, religion, Halloween, Christmas, television and divorce. Standardized tests are stressful, and it is understandable that we wouldn’t want to make them even worse. But alleviating that stress is a larger task that is unrelated to eliminating dinosaurs. The poor things have already been eliminated once.
Shielding children from language doesn’t shield them from realities. As the education community works together to make students feel better at school, we need to think about the bigger picture. The world is often unpleasant. And it is the role of educators to help students make sense of realities, rather than hiding them. To make the world better, students need to see what they need to change.
Aliza Aufrichtig is the editorial director of Flocabulary.