Sunday, August 21, 2016

Health Class: An Unhealthy Skepticism

    Health class didn’t have many new flaws that I could develop whole posts on, so I’ll just summarize the quarter in one lengthy one.

    Mr. B, my health teacher, does not just recite the health curriculum. He preaches it, with passion and conviction. If there is the middle-school-teacher equivalent of a fire-and-brimstone preacher, that is Mr. B.

    Of course, he can’t actually tell us we’re going to hell if we have premarital sex or get an abortion, though he may as well.

    He is also one of the school’s biggest sticklers for collaboration (cue sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns barfing glitter). He religiously follows his group-generating computer program, which sorts us into groups by our assigned numbers (I’m sorry, but does that remind anyone else of The Giver?) for every stupid assignment. We have to read whatever agonizing two-page document we’re writing about (out loud, and preferably taking turns so everyone gets a chance to contribute), then fill in each box at a time. God forbid we get ahead of the timer and do box number 3 when we were supposed to still be doing box number 2, especially if there are a whole twenty seconds of friend-making goodness left on box number 2. And, of course, we have to brainstorm each and every answer as a group and encourage everyone to share their valuable ideas about how Josh could tell Maria he doesn’t want to have sex with her yet.


    We had one assignment where we were supposed to get into groups and create a skit promoting abstinence and sharing our opinions on why teens should wait to have sex (because, of course, the extremely convincing, teen-friendly, not-remotely-influenced-by-religion abstinence lessons transforms everyone in the classroom into a good little child who won’t dream of ever flushing their lives down the toilet by having sex - there’s no chance anyone has *gasp* different opinions). This horrified my mother - and I can’t say I felt too different, though I was more or less resigned to it at that point. I mean, it’s one thing to force opinions down our throats, it’s another to make us regurgitate them and present them as our own.

    Oh - and then, to give us ideas for our skit, Mr. B treated us to two brief videos meant to inspire us. The first featured Benjamin Franklin saying, “I’m here to talk to you about abstinence. You may think teen pregnancies can never happen to you. Well, think again! [Quotes statistic]” (The link below is from Bing, because I couldn't find it on its original website, Then it ends with the particularly charming, "So, before you have sex, think of me, Benjamin Franklin!"


    So now some old white guy in a wig who lived so long ago that abortions and birth control didn’t exist, premarital sex just wasn’t acceptable, and girls were supposed to stay at home and raise children, is considered someone we’ll want to listen to?

    First of all, he knows nothing about how modern society views sex and gender roles, so he’s not even a valid symbol. Second, is he supposed to be like, “Oh, boys and girls of the 21st century, if you ever have questions about sex, come to me! I’m only a couple hundred years older than you. You can trust me. I’m just like one of you!”

    No. That’s creepy. It’s not funny and it’s even less effective.

    The second video was a teenage boy begging a crying baby to stop crying just for one night - I assume he was portraying a teen father.

    Not that I know much about parenthood, but isn’t that how it goes? Babies cry. You lose sleep begging your infant to calm down and receive no reward for it. It’s not like if you wait until marriage, parenting is suddenly some perfectly smooth ride where everyone gets lots of sleep and the children are always pleasant and agreeable. Ultimately, parenthood is parenthood, teen parent or not. So is the goal to keep us from ever having babies? Is the point of the video to leave this generation permanently disillusioned with the notion of ever becoming a parent?

    The rubric was typical. I don’t remember too much, but there’s stuff like Our health enhancing position (abstinence) is extremely clear. You know, just in case we hadn’t gotten the message the first 13 squillion times.

    Only one group prepared an actual skit, as opposed to a brief speech or something. It was kind of funny, I’ll admit, but…well, here’s how it went down:

Tom: [Pretends to knock on student who is playing door, for lack of a third role]
Grace: [Pretends to open “door”] Yes?
Tom: [Giggling awkwardly in a manner I can’t imagine was in the script, but is realistic regardless] Um, so, hey, do you wanna have sex?
Grace: Why?
Tom: [Looking genuinely confused] Um…I don’t know…I guess…because I wanna feel good?
Grace: Well, okay. What should we use?
Tom: Well, I’ve got some condoms…
Grace: I have a better idea.
Tom: What’s that?
Grace: [Smirking slightly] Abstinence. [Slams door]

    Well, on the bright side, Grace has absolutely no chance of getting pregnant with Tom’s child in the near future.

    In fact, Grace will probably never get pregnant with Tom’s child, or, if she keeps this up, with anyone’s, because I foresee a lot of embarrassment, hurt, angry rows, and an inevitable breakup in Tom and Grace’s near future that the skit conveniently omits - not because Grace didn’t want to have sex with Tom, but because Tom was perfectly nice about it, and Grace was a complete jerk to him. Is this the sort of healthy-relationship behavior teachers want to promote? It doesn’t matter if you’re completely rude to your boyfriend/girlfriend, as long as you don’t have sex?

    Mr. B, of course, ate it up with a spoon, which in my humble opinion is sick.

    He also taught us about birth control, which, admittedly, I give him credit for. I didn’t think he had the stomach to explain so many options and how they work. He kind of ruined the effect, though, by going over how effective each method was and then saying, “So, which is the only method that has a complete guarantee of, you know, of not getting pregnant, or getting an STD?”

    Gee, I can’t imagine.

    “That’s right - abstinence. That’s really the only reason I taught you about birth control, so you can see that abstinence is the only method of birth control with a 100% guarantee.”

    One girl asked, “What if you get raped?” to which he simply conceded, “That’s different,” but never elaborated. This had occurred to me - you can plan on abstinence and all, but there’s always a risk.

    As my friend Helene pointed out, that’s not entirely true. If you get a vasectomy or tubal ligation, as long as it's done properly, there’s no chance of getting pregnant. No guarantees about STI’s, admittedly, but still.

    That wasn’t it, though. There was a whole list of reasons abstinence was the best choice for teens - one of the most questionable, in my opinion, being that it was “the expected standard.”

    And we all know how Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks, and Susan B. Anthony, and Malala Yousafzai (shall I go on?) adhered to their expected standards.

    Then there was the lesson on teen pregnancies, which, of course, they just tied in with the abstinence lessons. It basically portrayed teen pregnancies - the babies, the parents, the pregnancies themselves - as this huge burden on society. He talked about how many tax dollars were spent funding them (I’m not sure what “funding them” meant; for whatever reason, he never elaborated on that either) and had us fill out worksheets listing possible physical, financial, and emotional impacts on teen parents, their parents, and their children.

    Something else my friend Helene pointed out was something that had never occurred to me, but was a very good point nonetheless: There are children in our generation who are themselves the results of unintentional teenage pregnancies. How will it feel to them, being portrayed as burdens? What is the emotional impact on them of seeing the video of a teen mother saying, “I love my daughter, but I really wish I’d never had sex?” and imagining that is how their parents feel about them? The whole guilt tactic strategy won’t just hit teenage parents, they’ll hit their children, possibly harder.

    So there was all this talk and all these contrived worksheets about how you basically give up your life if you have a baby as a teenager, and I kept waiting for them to get to the other options, and they never did. Finally, sick of having to generate innumerable ideas of how caring for a baby would destroy my life, I raised my hand and said, “This is true if you decide to keep the baby, but what if you get an abortion or put the baby up for adoption?”

    “We don’t cover those here,” Mr. B answered, in a tone that indicated that this would change over his dead body, and the subject was dropped.

    I’ll just bet the people writing the curriculum overlooked two major options for teenage mothers completely by accident, and it’s never occurred to them that they’re presenting a completely skewed and inaccurate portrayal of teenage pregnancy. I’m sure they never realized that they are totally failing to educate girls about their options in a situation that will permanently alter their lives. I mean, the adults in charge of deciding what we should learn about healthy relationships and sexualities, how to handle a teenage pregnancy, and even such basic things as reproductive anatomy and feminine hygiene…they obviously have our best interests in mind and wouldn’t leave us uneducated in a desperate, feeble effort to keep us from ever having sex. America is clearly in better hands than that.

Which, I suppose, is also why we have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in the civilized world.

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