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  • Reverend James Squire

The F Bomb and the Canary

I was watching the documentary on Jason Kelce on Prime Video when I felt uncomfortable with how I was feeling. I always pay attention to that feeling for the feeling is based on the reality that I couldn’t show that documentary in my Ethics class. I am a big fan of Kelce which made it worse. The documentary was excellent, and I was a bit angry that I would not be able to show it in a class if I were still teaching. Students love to have a visual and this documentary was about him as a person, football player, and as a family man who has lived, in my opinion, an ethical life. He is a hero in Philly, and he, in turn, loves the town.

The film was laced with the F Bomb which is now used in everyday conversation as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb as well as other parts of speech. It has appeared in titles of books. Recently, Kevin McCarthy used it in a heated exchange with Matt Gaetz regarding the failure of the House of Representatives to pass a budget before a deadline. (Full disclosure: I have used the word in anger myself) I never showed any film or audio that contained the F Bomb in class because I always thought that if I was covering a topic, it would be done in an unbiased way and no curse words were permitted to be used in class. When I was teaching the Jewish ethic, I taught it in such a way that any Jewish person who was an authority on Jewish ethics could visit class and they would say that what I was teaching was accurate. I even had rabbis who called me and told me how much Jewish history and Jewish ethics was obvious when their teachers in Hebrew School gave them feedback on what their students were learning at EA. They were way ahead of others.

I also taught a class that covered every hot ethical topic that you could mention. I always wanted the way the topics were covered to be in a balanced way as if parents were literally in class with us although I would never permit that as it would cut down on honest responses from the students. There were no complaints in 38 years in a diverse culture of every political persuasion. If asked I would tell the students what I believed and why after all the discussion among the students took place.

The juxtaposition of the importance of Kelce’s story with the prolific amount of the F Bomb was hard for me to put together knowing that I couldn’t use it in a class. What bothers me is the everyday and what seems like too many moments that it is used in many situations. I think that its frequency of use is like the canary in the mine to make sure that the miners are safe to do their work. If the canary dies, they are out of there. I think that the F Bomb is the canary for civil discourse and civility in our culture. You don’t hear the N word being used in everyday conversation except for those who are racists or clueless.

We have all heard the philosophical statement that “we are what we eat.” I believe that “we are what say” as well. I think that we can learn something again from students. In 38 years of being at EA, I can’t recall any member of our community saying the word in my presence. I organized a program called April Day where we would have programs that were beyond the curriculum of the school at the time. A faculty member had to be present in each program as outside resources were brought in. I had no takers for “sex ed” so I was the faculty member by default who would be in the room. The outside leader started the session by listing every slang word for sex and for men’s and women’s genitalia that were present in the culture. She did this to get the “elephant of slang and sex” out of the room so that she could cover the topic from the full spectrum of points of view. There was an outcry from the students that “you can’t say those words with the Rev in the room. It’s disrespectful.” I wonder if today if they would have the same response. Coach Doc, one of the most revered basketball coaches of all time in the Philly area, would ask a player to leave the gym if he heard a curse word, even if It just slipped out. It became the norm. If a curse word did slip out, and the player knew Coach Doc heard it, they wouldn’t wait for his command. They would just go to the locker room. They were done for the day. He created a culture of respect and greatness for his players. He was revered as much for that as anything in the win/lost column.

Here, in essence, is what bothered me the most. Kelce’s victory address as he was garbed in mummer’s gear is regarded as one of the best ever. It was laced with the F Bomb. After that there were speakers who came forward to proclaim the Eagles as Philly’s team. One of the last to speak was a boy of about 8 who said, “If you don’t like the Eagles, you can go F___ yourself.” He is the canary in our culture that has grown much less civil in discourse. As our President would say, “We are better than that!” We are what we say. The little boy’s F Bomb was blocked out. Why not the rest?

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