Teaching online has been really weird. With each passing day, I’m still discovering new quirks.
I knew, for example, that our online classroom program censored any cussing students did in the chat by replacing the dirty word with a string of asterisks, but until today, I only understood that in the abstract.
And then I tried to talk about balls.
“I like when clouds are fluffy like cotton balls,” I typed in the chat about why I liked crisp fall days. But what resulted after I hit the enter key was this:
“I like when clouds are fluffy like cotton *****.”
What the hell?
I tried again. “Cotton balls,” I typed.
“Oh my god,” I typed. “The software is bleeping the word balls.”
The message that displayed in the chat?
“Oh my ***. The software is bleeping the word *****.”
Seriously? I can’t type GOD or BALLS? What if I’m talking about Zeus? Or the new soccer apparatus I bought my kids this weekend?
The problem with the asterisk is that your brain always fills in the gap with the dirtiest word imaginable. “My heavens,” I could imagine the students thinking, “why is my teacher using the c-word? How inappropriate!”
I cleared the air by going on mic and explaining the innocent word hidden behind the stars. What resulted was then an impromptu science lab where my students decided they wanted to know which words would be bleeped and which would elude the censors. A bit curious myself, I let it happen.
The seven dirty words were transformed into asterisk constellations of course, as were hell and damn, though “goddammit” and the more traditional spelling “goddamnit” breezed through unscathed.
Turns out god was a no-go, but Christ, Allah, and Buddha were all okay.
When it came to scrotums, ball was okay, its plural not. So as long as we were talking about Lance Armstrong, we were good.
I shut the trials down once the students discovered they could type anything as long as they put spaces between the letters. Fortunately, the worst result was h e l l.
As for my description of autumn’s fluffy clouds, I went with the obvious, stating my preference for when the fall sky was filled with beautiful cotton testicles. After all, that is the proper scientific term.