Nekkid Isn't a Dirty Word

ELIZABETH SCHUETT

July 15, 1993|By ELIZABETH SCHUETT

Gibsonburg, Ohio. -- My cousin, Ernest Malcolm Parker III, got sent home from nursery school for swearing. The Girl Scouts gave me my walking papers for the same reason. And my son showed an early aptitude for four-letter words. It must be genetic.

I decided something had to be done. I didn't want Kristofor to become a social leper, unwelcome in all the better sandboxes in Newnan, Georgia.

We struck a deal. ''If you can't write the word and spell it correctly then you can't say it. OK?'' ''OK,'' he agreed.

My brilliant bargain was short-lived. Kristofor was way ahead of me and it was my own fault. I had begun teaching him to write when he was barely old enough to get a grubby grip on a crayon. For over a year, mother and son had been writing all over the unfinished basement walls.

''I am Kristofor.'' ''Pyewacket is our cat.'' ''Dad is Robert.'' ''Mom is crazy.'' He dictated and together we wrote.

One day, in his sternest voice, his father called me downstairs. ''Have you seen your son's latest?'' Emphasis on ''your.''

On the unfinished piece of wallboard nearest the fireplace was the most recent addition to Kristofor's literary pursuit.

''List of words,'' it was titled. ''By Kris Schuett.'' He was proud of his work. I'm sure it took a lot of research.

A list of seven words followed -- each one a different color. I can't reproduce the list for you because this is a family newspaper. Just use your imagination -- nothing out of the ordinary.

''Now what are you going to do?'' Emphasis on ''you.'' That was a father's way of letting me know that I had gotten us into this mess so it was up to me to get us out.

I called the boy in from his sandbox roadbuilding and explained to him that ''doo doo'' and ''nekkid'' weren't dirty words at all so the deal was off. No more swearing until he got it right.

Time passed and I got lucky. He lost interest in swearing. He was a four-letter-word burnout before his first day of kindergarten.

That's why I can't get too excited about what's happening in Oskaloosa, Kansas. Last month the school board there said that the teachers, kindergarten through eighth grade, had to go through every one of the books used in their classrooms and list all the dirty words they found there.

My feelings are, let the school board find their own dirty words. Teachers have enough to do. But see, it doesn't stop there.

The book that stirred up the controversy was Katherine Paterson's ''Bridge to Terabithia,'' which is used in a fifth-grade classroom. It has a line in it that reads, ''What are they teaching you at that damn school?'' Pretty heavy stuff, huh?

But what's really got a lot of Oskaloosans worried is the friendship of the two children in the book who ''often play in the woods.'' The school board president thinks people may have been more upset about an ''unwritten relationship'' between the children than by the swear word.

I wonder how many fifth-graders would or could read an ''unwritten relationship'' into the story. And what do we tell our kids? ''You can't play in the woods because someone might talk dirty or have an unwritten relationship?''

Honestly, I don't worry much about what a kid might read. I worry about what a kid might not read. I worry a whole lot about a kid not reading at all. I also worry about grown-ups who find evil lurking under every unturned rock.

And as for swearing, most all of us outgrow the need to resort to profanity thanks to teachers who encourage us to read and help us to build a vocabulary that goes far beyond monosyllabic mutterings.

My cousin Malcolm doesn't swear at all anymore, and my kid hasn't written dirty words on a wall since he was four. I guess I'm the only one who still needs help.

Elizabeth Schuett is a teacher and writer.

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