Public school teachers might soon have to be extra careful about what they say both in and out of class. A group of Republican state lawmakers is trying to pass a bill requiring teachers to avoid using offensive language in front of their students. Free speech advocates, predictably, aren't crazy about the idea and point out that the bill is so poorly written that it inadvertently puts limits on what teachers could say in their own homes. Here, a brief guide:
What words do the lawmakers want to ban?
The bill would bar teachers from using any words that the Federal Communications Commission regulations bar from TV and radio, which generally include both the F-word and milder terms like "shit." The standards, however, are a bit vague, as the FCC says words that might be OK in some contexts aren't in others. The agency defines profanity as "language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance."
How would teachers who break the rule be punished?
As the bill is currently written, a first offense would trigger a one-week suspension (although the penalty might be reduced to a simple warning). A second offense would result in a two-week suspension. Any teacher busted for a third offense would be fired.
Is profanity a big problem in the classroom?
One of the bill's sponsors, state Rep. Lori Klein, says constituents have been complaining about high school teachers using inappropriate language in front of students. "Students are young and impressionable and teachers should not be using four-letter words in the classroom," she says. But a veteran high-school French teacher, Chris Maza, says teachers already know to keep classrooms G-rated. "I don't find this to be such a significant issue that we would have to have a law," Maza tells The Arizona Republic.
But, wait, what about free speech?
That's the biggest problem critics have with this proposal. It's bad enough that this "absurd" law would prohibit high school teachers from exposing students to great works of literature that happen to include "salty language," says Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel, but the proposed ban extends even to college professors. And that's not the worst of it, says Angus Johnston at Student Activism. The bill is so badly worded that, in its current form, it would ban swearing in scholarly articles, private emails, and even, technically, make it a no-no for teachers to swear — or take off his or her clothes — anywhere, even at home. "Just when you thought the Arizona legislature was out of bad ideas."