A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why, in the name of everything holy, do they tell me these things?

Subheading: In which your heroine probably gets herself in hot water for her lack of "tolerance"

I love it when we've got academic labs that last an hour. This means that, on a good day, the kids will ask me a million disjointed questions-- "Ms. C, what vitamin is folic acid?" "Ms. C, do you have a chemistry text?" "Ms. C, what's a recessive gene? "Ms. C, who thought up pi?" "Ms. C, are you a Mrs.?" "Ms. C, how much cholesterol in a Cheese Doodle?" "Ms. C, do you believe in ouija boards?"

and on and on. In theory, this is supposed to be time I can get work done. In theory.

Then, there came a big question: "Ms. C, do you think it's fair that my boyfriend is in jail?"

I could feel the ice thinning under me, but one couldn't exactly ignore that one.

"Umm, it depends. Why is he in jail?"

The answer? For statutory rape. With this student. On and on she went about how rich people can get off when they do these type of things, but poor people can't. Didn't want to touch that one. So then she asked,"Do you think it's fair to be in jail? I consented!"

All ears in the room focused toward me.

My answer? I mentally wiped the slack-jawed gape that threatened to burst forth off my mug and said, "Yes. Yes, he should be in jail. Statutory rape should be a crime."

This answer, to say the least, did not please her. "Why do you think that? In this state, if my parents gave their consent, we could get married! How old do you think someone should be to have sex?"

"Okay. I'll give you my honest opinion." Careful here, girl. Mention personal beliefs at one's own peril. "Obviously, your parents did not consent. I don't think anyone should have sex until they are old enough and stable enough and mature enough to handle the consequences of sex, especially until they are old enough to love and welcome and take care of a baby, which is very often the biggest consequence of sex. How many kids have you seen having kids of their own, and no idea about what that means or how that will change not only their lives but the life of that child FOR WHOM THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE. And then that child grows up without the proper care and nurturing, and through no fault of its own it is hurt, and may never recover. Only when you can do a decent job at handling the consequences should you engage in the behavior." (I mean really, a few minutes before I heard her complain that something wasn't "fair." Come on.) "That is my own personal opinion, since you asked."

She was quiet for a second, and looked like she was going to argue, but thought better of it, and at least seemed to be mulling this over. Another kid spoke up and said, "My parents said to wait until I was married." And a few heads nodded. "And that advice still falls under my criteria," I said. And thank heavens, a few more seemed thoughtful, and then one girl stated she wasn't even allowed to date because in her culture, marriages were arranged. And thankfully, that led us off topic.

Well, I could have shook her off, or refused to answer (and oh, was I tempted to do just that!) or mumbled some platitude about how everyone's choices are equally valid. But I don't believe that, and while I may tease or joke, one thing the kids know about me is that I will not lie. Obfuscate, oh absolutely, but when it comes down to it, I am honest. In this case, incredibly uncomfortable, too. I am really a reticent person about stuff like this. Really. Don't look at me funny like that, I mean it.

I don't think these kids having sex is a good idea or a choice that should be given validation or acquiescence through silence on my part when they ask my opinion about it. Further, I don't buy this bullshit that since they are going to do it anyway, you might as well say it's okay. This kid in particular is especially troubled, and frankly, it would be a tragedy for her (not to mention for the child) to become a mother at this time in her life. And no, I certainly didn't want to get into the other consequences, because, trust me, they have heard about them already, and, frankly, the limb I was perched on felt mighty slender already.

But just last week another of my students told me that she was pregnant, and she was all excited and thrilled about it, like she was going to have a new pet to play with, and we've already discussed this week how dangerous being a pet can be in some people's houses (see last Saturday's post).

Despite what all the statistics say about teen pregnancy rates declining, there suddenly seems to be a multitude of student parents around me, and they're all in one of my classes. I actually went to the counselors and said, "Don't put any more girls in my room. They end up pregnant. And as a matter of fact, don't put any boys in my room, either, because someone's got to be getting these girls pregnant. At least they're not doing it IN my class, but still." I was pretty distraught over the whole thing, actually, because I wanted to scream at this kid. Having. A. Kid. Changes. Everything. If you do it right. (And if it doesn't change everything, you're NOT doing it right.) Even when you're two adults trying to handle it all. And no. None of these kids ever thinks about giving the baby up for adoption, either.

So, everyone seemed to handle this little sojourn into Ms. Cornelius's ethics, and I hopefully avoided preaching or injecting religion into it or other sorts of career-ending detours.

But crap. Fifteen minutes later, a familiar voice called for my attention.

"Ms. C, can I ask you a question?"

"Can I in any way stop you?" I half-hopefully asked. "As long as it's not about sex."

"It's not," she assured me.

"Do you believe in ghosts?"

Oh, good Lord. I am going to have to start charging this kid by the word. "For the love of Mike, do some homework!"

****Update: By the way, apparently someone thought that I might be advocating those abstinence-only sex ed programs. I think those things are ridiculous if that's the only info kids get. But I was asked my opinion about when people should have sex-- not what kind of sex ed kids should receive. My parents were too embarrassed to talk to me about sex, so they sent me to a class run by a church and the Camp Fire Girls. We got the straight story in a way that was memorable-- didn't say "Oh well, you're gonna do it anyway so go ahead," but also didn't say "If you have sex you'll go to hell." It made us understand how important a decision becoming sexually active was-- a message sadly lacking in most kids' lives. I also ended up with a lot of funny stories with which to amuse my softball teammates while sitting in the dugout.


At 3/10/06, 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great answer!
And one I used to give when teaching responsible sexual behavior to incarcerated youth.
Since irresponsible parenthood was the reason many of them were there, it kind of stopped them cold for a while. But not for that long.. Got lots of interesting questions. Once even managed to turn the 'sheep' question into a literature lesson about the poetry of Girolamo Fracastoro.

The question about the chicken... that stumped me.

At 3/10/06, 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll second it, that was a great answer. I'm going to copy it!

At 3/11/06, 7:38 PM, Blogger Smithie said...

Good answer...
Your post relates to an ongoing conversation I've had with my wife about the fact that teachers are not allowed to be themselves in the class room and attempting to find a balance between profesionalism and "keeping it real" can damn near drive you crazy.

At 3/11/06, 8:47 PM, Blogger Amerloc said...

If you don't keep it real, Ms C, you'll end up a young dog telling old jokes on Fridays. And I have that market covered, so don't go there.


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