Controlling the Crude

The late George Carlin's famous "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV" routine is no longer shocking, and no longer accurate.

Profanity constantly spews from the radio, the TV, and of course, from the Internet, and it is making a video teacher's job more difficult than ever.  


Mainstream cable stations such as TBS, FX, TNT and others run programming laced with words those of us born before 1970 would never have imagined hearing in our front rooms every night.  The over-the-air networks, which are held to slightly higher standards by the FCC, also bring the blue language consistently.

This impacts our classrooms all the time.  Students producing short movies, or humorous projects, look at you like you are an alien when you tell them something is in poor taste.  There is almost nothing that shocks our youth, and we now have a younger generation of teachers who have been exposed to off-color content their entire lives. 

In classes like ours, we do not want to squelch creativity and enthusiasm among our students, especially the ones so excited about their short movie script, or their well-planned parody.  Those projects are often valuable learning experiences.  

So what is the best way to handle the issue of swearing or questionable taste in student-produced videos?

This is a subjective decision we must face individually.  For example, students at one of our sister schools produced an award-winning short movie last year with stark images of drug use, including a needle-going-into-the-arm scene as the main character shot up on heroin.  It was part of a very well-executed story, but I would not share it with our school audience.  Maybe that's just me.

That is my point.  I make the call in my classroom, based on our district policies, and the culture of my school and my video department.  I have made those calls for almost 30 years.  I try to err on the side of the students.  They did the work, and shooting them down is always hard.  Those moments when I object deserve a conversation and an explanation, which I try to provide.

This is not a new challenge for us.  I know the Student Television Network went through pains in the early years of the STN national convention trying to decide what content would be allowed in contests.  I was the chairman of the first five conventions (2004-2008), and I eventually put together a strong committee of experts from across the country to draft creative content guidelines.  This after some edgy visuals in student-produced music videos raised questions among teachers, and even then, some thought the complainers were just being childish.

So yes, our culture is crude, and our kids see and hear things every day they will immitate and try to put into their own productions.  Broadcast and video teachers in this day and age can not escape these battles over content.  

You have to find balance, and you also have to protect students from their own ignorance of how their content reflects back on them, and on you, the teacher, as well as the entire school.