- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

A Chantilly High School student says his English teacher instructed the class to repeat a common two-word profanity 10,000 times as a way of desensitizing them to its appearance in the novel “Catcher in the Rye.”

Jeff Daybell, 17, a senior at Chantilly, said he brought the incident to the attention of school administrators because he was shocked at the teacher’s instructions.

“I said, ‘What the heck is going on?’” he said. “Why is my teacher giving me this assignment?

The incident occurred a few weeks ago, after students in the class repeatedly murmured and commented on the language in some passages of J.D. Salinger’s 1951 classic.

“The Catcher in the Rye” is a coming-of-age story about Holden Caulfield, an affluent teenager who has been expelled from school for poor achievement and spends a few days in New York before returning to his parents’ inevitable wrath.

The book, written from his perspective, contains a steady stream of mild swear words. Among them is the two-word phrase, which includes the “F word.”

“The teacher wanted students to be aware that this was in the book,” said Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier. He said the teacher had not intended for students to repeat the phrase as an assignment, adding that the teacher had made the comment “jokingly.”

According to Jeff, the teacher used the phrase several times, then told students to say it “10,000 times in different ways” to desensitize themselves to the language.

Jeff said he later learned from other students that the teacher had made the comment in at least one other class.

“I thought for sure I hadn’t understood it right,” said Nancy Daybell, Jeff’s mother, recalling her reaction when her son told her about the incident. “I don’t think it’s appropriate. We don’t want our child to be desensitized to that kind of language.”

Jeff, who attends Bible study classes each morning before school and is working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, also serves as an intern with the nonprofit think tank Frontiers of Freedom.

The vice president of the nonprofit, Jason Wright, encouraged Jeff to organize his thoughts in an essay, which was posted Monday on the organization’s Web site, www.opinioneditorials.com.

“It makes me sick,” Mr. Wright said, adding that he thinks the teacher should be fired. “At what point will we make the teachers accountable for the paychecks they’re collecting?”

Jeff described the teacher as a “good teacher,” adding, “He just made a mistake.”

Mrs. Daybell said, “We’re not after his job in any way.” She said the teacher called Jeff on Monday night and told him the incident was a misunderstanding and that he should not feel uneasy returning to class.

Jeff said he returned to class yesterday and that the teacher was more supportive than many of the students.

Mrs. Daybell said Principal Tammy Turner e-mailed her with a message of support for Jeff. Mrs. Turner referred calls yesterday to Mr. Regnier.

Mr. Regnier said he could not discuss whether the teacher faces punishment for the remark. “I think we can all agree that there might have been better ways to do this,” he said.

The two-word phrase in question appears about three or four times at the end of “Catcher in the Rye,” most notably when the main character sees it scrawled on a wall.

“If you had a million years to do it, you couldn’t rub out even half the [expletive] signs in the world,” Mr. Salinger writes.

His book has been the object of challenges nationwide for decades because of its language, references to violence and sexual content.

According to the Chicago-based American Library Association, the book was the 13th most frequently challenged book in the country’s school systems from 1990 to 2000.


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