Sunday, May 25, 2008

Communication to our youth, or lack thereof

It’s spring. There is a change in the air from the coldness of winter to the melting spring, a renewal, a resurgence. Outside it’s blue skies and birds chirping. But inside my 8th grade classroom it’s a darkened room, a quiet chatter of hushed voices, completely at odds with the birdsong outside. There’s something palpable in the air – a sense of excitement, uncertainty, and curiosity. All I can see are the silhouettes of my classmates from the glare of the TV screen in front of the room, heads close together whispering. Sister Maria shushes us in her thick brogue, “Now, now ladies. It’s time to be quiet”. Then … then, our “educational” video starts.

All I can really recall from class that day is a vague feeling of repugnance and disgust, and a lot more questions than I was willing to ask at the time. Two other things that I remember: red, lots of red, and the sounds … a vacuum-like whirring. This whirring was the medical procedure being done, known as vacuum aspiration or D&C. (I think one of the girls had to leave the room in the middle of the video.)

What I’m describing is the sexual education we received in 8th grade in Catholic School. There was more covered, I’m sure, but what stuck with me almost 20 years later, was that video. We had to have a parental consent form signed to see this video – we were very curious about that. All of us were excited and curious – “what would they show that needed our folks’ okay? It MUST be nudity! I mean, this IS sex-ed, right? Why else would they segregate the girls from the boys, just to show a video?” Well, that’s what our 13-year-old hormonal selves were hoping at any rate. Boy, were we wrong.

The video? It showed an abortion being performed.

In a way, I get why they showed us that – it’s an impressionable age and scare tactics do work. The Church is vehemently anti-birth control and anti-abortion. Brain washing and indoctrination is best done starting at an early age.

Gina was never a friend of mine during our Catholic School years, but once in public high school, we did become friends. Our educational and religious background was the same and our family background was similar. So – why did she wind up pregnant at 15/16 and not me? Why was I able to continue to go out on weekends and experience teenage life, while she was stuck at home, watching her body slowly expand in order to shelter the new life growing within?

Some of that, I think, goes back to those unasked questions from 8th grade. At some point I DID ask. I found trusted adults and asked my questions, I listened in on adult conversations (it’s amazing that people think that kids don’t hear things), I ate books on every subject (though we won’t go into my guilty love of sci-fi and fantasy here) … and I think that search for knowledge might have made the difference. Gina thought (at age 15/16) that you couldn’t get pregnant if it was your first time. Sadly, so did her boyfriend. Talk about a life lesson, eh?

I still think about Gina – wonder how she is doing, what type of person her child has grown into (wow, she must be 16 by now), and hope that she will teach her about sex. Teach her openly and honestly, without relying solely on the school or church to do so.

Education, of any kind, needs to be supported at home, including the uncomfortable subject of sexual education.

I’m of two minds regarding this story (comments in parenthesis are mine) -

“The parents said they had collected 163 signatures of residents opposing the introduction of Planned Parenthood materials or organization-developed instruction in the school.” (Now, I’m curious – are these just residents, or are the majority the parents of children in the aforementioned school?)

The article links to a site ( which is the spearhead behind the fracas. I didn’t spend much time looking at the site, but one of the ideas they state is that Planned Parenthood purposely uses bad condoms, so that there will be an increase in a need for their abortion services. Huh?

“Deborah Young said she started researching Planned Parenthood education guidelines and found passages that suggested masturbation is a source of pleasure.” (Uhm, yes. Maybe I was a hyper-sexual child, but I remember being very young and figuring out that certain things just felt good. Of course, I would never ask about it, because I knew it was “dirty”, so I was left to my own devices to explore and not have any idea what was going on, physically. Children are naturally curious creatures – isn’t it better to give them the information about their constantly growing and changing bodies, instead of leaving them in the dark and having them muddle through?)

“Dr. Michael Rochet, a physician, said the school district should search for alternatives for Planned Parenthood programming because he believes the instruction will facilitate curiosity among students.” (First off, I do not want this man as my doctor. Secondly, is curiosity a bad thing? Isn’t curiosity what spurs open discussion between people, friends, lovers, and parent and child?)

But then, he redeems himself in the following statement - “We don’t have to follow everybody else. Let’s lead the pack,” Rochet said.” Now, I understand how people will be quoted out of context, in order to fit in with the authors’ viewpoint. This statement, taken just as it is, I completely agree with. Why not build something that will fit in, and be tailored to, your own community? A program that is built by and for the community? A foundation that is community led, parent led, but with feedback from the people that are being proselytized to?

When I read this story, I could see both sides. However, reading this story through the spectacles of my own life story, I can honestly say I wish I had Planned Parenthood teaching sex-ed in my school. Alongside the abortion video. I think it may have saved me a lot of angst. And questions. A LOT of questions. The private school education I received I would never give up. But, there is a difference in private vs. public school education. Private school has a lot of heart behind it (right or wrong) and public school has a lot of information, with the heart lacking.

I really don’t want this to turn into an issue of pro or anti-choice, pro or anti-abortion. It’s one where I want people to question, to communicate, to dig down deep and find out what they want to teach – what to teach to friends, what to teach lovers, what to teach their children. We create our community, we say what is okay to teach, and what is NOT okay to teach. We are the ones that say what questions are okay to ask, and what ones are not.

But isn’t that what life is? A journey of questions, then seeing where those answers lead us?

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