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Flap Over Students' Underground Magazine

November 10, 1996

Re "White Dresses and Blue Language Make for a School Scandal," Nov. 2: A former junior high school classroom teacher and administrator, I read Amy Pyle's article with a mixture of admiration, amusement and sadness. I thought the title of the offending student magazine, Whore-Hey, was an intelligent pun, assuming reader knowledge not only of current adult journalism (albeit East Coast) and Spanish pronunciation (West Coast). I was amused to read that in late 1996 a school, even a private school, could be calling its students "violets."

But I was saddened to be reminded that school administrators still have to worry about details like bad words--and "deal with" the problem. Many bad words are spoken daily in homes, on commercially owned air and can be seen almost any time on public walls. But a day's suspension for putting bad words into an extracurricular paper, plus Fs for work not done while being suspended? Who else should have some Fs?

JANE McCREARY

Glendale

* The girls at Marlborough School who used verbal graffiti using the name Jorge showed great disrespect of a good name among Spanish-speaking people. Should the girls' names be used in comparable manner, one wonders what their reaction--and that of their parents--would be to such lack of civility and respect of persons' identities--their names.

DAISY G. WHITAKER

Studio City

* The article ignores a central issue: the appropriate use of language. While I agree that much of the writing in Whore-Hey is "compelling," it is compelling not because of its multiple use of four-letter words, but because it forthrightly questions assumptions about teenage girls. If students are to learn to "suit the action to the word, the word to the action," as Hamlet cautions, then there has to be someone who judges whether student language lives up to this ideal.

The students who wrote Whore-Hey should have pondered whether what some students might find compelling, others might not instead find offensive. Unless writers accommodate a range of sensibilities, they are apt to lose the very audience they say they want to reach. To ask students to balance self-expression against effective communication is not censorship, but part of the learning process. Four-letter words are not automatically taboo, but if equally strong and more precise alternatives exist, teachers and administrators need to ask whether real communication was the goal or merely the desire to shock and offend. If it was the latter, then Marlborough should have the right to defend the life of the mind against the language of the streets.

JOHN WANDS, Head Department of English

Marlborough School

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