Big news in Utah this past week:
A middle-school health teacher (in a small, conservative [read that religious] community) was put on administrative leave for teaching details about sexuality. The original story inferred that she was holding forth on details on homosexuality, masturbation, and oral sex. The truth is that she had taught the regular curriculum and thereafter fielded student questions, which turned to these things.
On the one hand, the outraged and prolix parents had every right to wax eloquent, loud and long on the violation of their parental rights in teaching their offspring about sex. It is even possible that some of those innocent students were hearing details theretofore unimagined by them
On the other hand–probably not. I teach junior high students, the same age as the endangered middle school kids in question. My students know lots about sex, far more than I ever knew at that age. For sure, these students see very explicit material on prime-time TV, and they surely see plenty of sex in the movies they watch. From time to time we discuss cinema in art class, and I am often floored at the kinds of movies these young kids view, both for violence and for sexuality. Furthermore, they watch and rewatch very explicit music videos–and many of them use outright porn. And furthermore, walking around the art room as kids work and talk, I overhear that many of them are sexually active at thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.
No wonder they have questions about sexual practices. I believe the young health teacher caught herself in a trap. Experienced teachers know that there are certain things you never say, never discuss, because of community reaction. Young teachers, hoping to help kids understand a sexual world they really are much too young for, can get tripped up on answering questions.
No doubt our Utah middle school health teacher will not have her contract renewed next year. I think that is a shame. Obviously, the offended parents have no clue about what their kids’ lives are really like. They do not realize the misinformation–and the pressure–these young students experience. I would not be surprised to find that these offended parents have not given their kids much information on sex. Maybe the teacher crossed a line–and maybe a few students pushed her there. Still, I’d rather see her keep her job and learn the hard lesson of staying very conservative on certain subjects, like sex.