The ironed khakis, the shirt and tie, the well-organized PowerPoint lecture, the meticulous course syllabus and class calendar, the erect posture and conscientious eye contact, the easy articulation of complex concepts – all of this is intentional and geared toward building a teacher’s authority. But beneath the façade is a human mind that passed through puberty in the late twentieth century, a personality of our time, by no means immune to the increasing vulgarity of American media and culture, surrounded by upstarts who helped write The Urban Dictionary and who are nonplussed by all but a handful of English words and phrases, “fuck” not being one of them. As many comedians have demonstrated, the word “fuck” can stand in for nearly anything. It is a verb, a noun, an adjective, and an adverb. Not many words can claim such versatility and power. It can temporarily tear down the authoritarian veneer that separates teacher and student, or, when used to upbraid, it can erect a more fortified authoritarian wall. Examples range from: “What the fuck is going on with campus parking?” — a cool play for camaraderie, to: “From what I can tell, only three of us read this fucking assignment.” — an unexpected acknowledgement of the inner-workings of derelict college students who hoped to remain hidden. Here are some classroom situations that may or may not be improved with a rationed use of the F-bomb, the dropping of which probably won’t make anyone smarter or more motivated or more self-reflective, but have fun trying.
The F-Bomb as a Force for Good
The squeamish instinct, the censoring impulse, and the preference for decorum over blunt truths, especially when upheld by young people for reasons not necessarily their own, is something we should very much want to root out of the educational process. To what extent is education mere propaganda and to what extent does it become more difficult to propagandize with a fuck or two thrown into the mix? For example, when a wholly sincere bright-eyed youngling utters the phrase, “Same sex marriage is an affront to the sanctity of marriage.” Respond with, “Fuck the sanctity of marriage.” Just as, “Prisoners get free food, healthcare, and cable TV,” is easily followed with, “Have you ever eaten prison food? Fuck that. They don’t get to go anywhere. That’s punishment enough. Let them watch some fucking cable TV.” Of course one shouldn’t confront the brainwashed directly, but each retort should be aimed at dismantling the unquestioned ideology of the common utterance. Part of our job is to discourage the university’s newcomers from simply plucking ready-made unexamined phrases out of the air under the umbrella of free speech. Because there’s no such thing as free thought. The relevancy of our ideas must be paid for with logic and compassion. Are we ever really allowed to say whatever the fuck we want? Not in a classroom.
The Silent Fuck
This is a fuck in attitude only and never verbalized. Consider the silent fuck in the following situations: “There are how many [act as if searching for a polite word as a stand-in for “fuck,” but failing in the moment… pause] fraternity houses on campus?!” Or, “Who [pause] cares if we win the game this weekend?” This allows the teacher to reveal true feeling and, temporarily, to not simply go along with the program. Here is a teacher, but more. Teachers, say this to yourself every once in a while: “I am an untranslatable complex and undiminished human butterfly. I roar.” And then never say that out loud to anyone, but occasionally offer a glimpse of your rich inner tapestry with the silent fuck.
Fuck as Articulation of Exasperation
Most often employed in response to university administration, policy, or bureaucracy, as well as blind patriotism, repeated ignorance, unapologetic laziness, and/or greed. Consider, “I know the required text is a fucking $80 book, but there are ways around it. Google “PDF” at the end of the title and see if someone has posted it online. Not saying anyone did. Just saying you should try that and see. This handy trick may work in any and all of your classes.” Or, “Well, it was nice of the university president to cancel classes for the rest of the day now that the fucking blizzard has already started and we have to drive home in it.” You are presenting yourself as a rational human, someone capable of logical thought, unimpressed with unnecessary authoritarian structures that don’t serve the best interest of the student, or that make what should be easy far more difficult.
F-Bomb as Illustration of
How Much Worse Some Words Can Be
When studying the American literature of virtually any period there is a near 100% chance that one will encounter the N-word. As a teacher there is no situation, no matter how well prefaced, that the N-word can be uttered in its full naked un-sanitized glory. As comedian Louis C.K. has noted (Google it because I won’t even link to someone saying this word), when one party says “N-word,” it puts the real word in the other party’s head, leading to the punch line: “You made me say it!” There’s no kind way of dancing around our violent disgusting history with respect to race, but in order to talk about it, as we should, we’re left with “N-word.” To take some discomfort out of the air, consider the following: “Since this is a literature class, and since we’re reading some of these passages out loud for discussion, we may encounter the occasional unexpected N-word. Please skip over it, or say “N-word,” or fucking anything but the actual word. I’ll say “fuck” at the drop of a hat, but that other one? Not gonna say it. Not gonna ask you to say it. Gonna all-around discourage it being uttered while I’m standing here as your teacher. Please and thank you.”
F-Bomb as Instant Cool-Teacher-Bond
Unfortunately teachers have to be “on,” even when class hasn’t officially started. As students filter in, chitchat will ensue. Someone will tell a story about a car accident. Another will up the ante by telling a story about being carjacked. There will be outrageous stories about what a friend on the high plateau of drunkenness achieved without conscious effort. All this before class: tragic tales of human avarice, human error, human achievement. And then, since everyone is listening while each student holds court, and it’s time to go ahead and start the class, the teacher might begin, “I’m going to go ahead and jump in here, and pardon my French, I’m assuming you’ve all watched late night cable TV or rented an R-rated flick from the Redbox, and so you’ve heard the word before, because I don’t know how else to express it, but that’s fucking crazy.”
Be warned, however, that no matter how good it may look from afar, you may not want to be the cool teacher. Once you’ve let the F-bomb out of it’s cage, that fucker’s loose, and you won’t get it back. You have given tacit permission for everyone in the class to speak any way they damn well please. They will take far more pleasure in this freedom than is probably worth any particular point you wanted to make or connection you wanted to forge, and if you don’t want to be greeted with the F-bomb every morning until the end of the semester, it may be best to keep that fucker in the can. If you enjoy the carnivalesque chaos of education in revolt, however, then write the F-bomb into your lesson plan, and when the time comes, own it. And remember, if anyone goes to the dean to complain about you, and it’s only a first offense, tell the dean you were trying out an “un-pedagogy,” and you think the students have become better critical thinkers and have been more enthusiastic about their research projects as a direct result.
The F-Bomb as a Final Send Off at
the End of a Piecemeal Career in Teaching
On the last class day at the end of a temporary teaching contract — jobs many of us have wandered into because more permanent teaching jobs have gotten harder to come by, thanks to the takeover of universities by managers and bean counters — it might feel good to drop an F-bomb or two while explaining to the students that their fine teacher, like many thousands, is about to sail off the precipice of the teaching profession into a free fall of unemployment for the unforeseeable future, out of no fault of his own, but because someone in an expensive suit with a large corner office decided that at least one third of the teachers at this university, the same as any given university, should be temporary, and in this case, nonrenewable. So I find my foul-mouthed self being replaced by a brand new wide-eyed well-mannered educator every few years after I’ve been lucky enough to land a new gig. And when one of my students, oblivious to the callous ways of the world, understands less than half of what I’ve explained and asks, “You’re leaving? Don’t you like it here?” The appropriate response, for me at least, as I’m feeling the weight of all my efforts being deemed unnecessary by decision-makers who’ve never seen me teach, is a casual, “Oh fuck no. That’s not it at all. I love having a job. But I’m on a temporary contract. It has nothing to do with me at all. It just fucking is. You all could go to the dean, the chair, the provost, and tell them about me. You could write letters. You could protest with handmade signs declaring the injustice. Though none of that will matter. Students have never been able to save a teacher’s job, not in the fucking Dead Poet’s Society and not in real life. Because it’s never been about education, or what students want, or those in charge showing a smidgen of loyalty to those who’ve put in the years. Then what is it about? I couldn’t tell you. I’d hate to speculate and I get pretty fucking angry when I think too much about it. But have a great summer. Enjoy your lives. May you all graduate and find fulfillment in your chosen fields. Keep reading and writing, whenever you can. It’s going to get harder to find the time, so make time. According to the odds, you’ll very likely get fucked over too, but that’s at least a few years down the road. So don’t fret. You’re young. And no matter what anyone tells you, you can do whatever you set your mind to. Any [pause] thing at all.”