Image courtesy of Gotardo. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
While out at a Local Watering Hole with friends this weekend, there was a brief moment of discomfort when my friends realized that the folks standing nearby were a former middle school classmate and a former middle school teacher. My main reaction was one of delight: for once it wasn’t me running into someone from middle school! I am all about looking on the bright side.
The rest of the evening passed in a pleasant, uneventful way, but the run-in got me thinking about my K-12 education. Despite being a grade-a nerd, I had a perfectly pleasant time of public school. Because my memories of that time are mostly fond, it’s easy for me to forget that public education is occasionally completely bizarre. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that I spent 8 hours a day locked in a building where I had 22 minutes to eat lunch and the bathrooms were locked during that period to prevent people from having sex in them.
Which, by the way, did not ring any bells as weird during that time.
The moment that came to mind last night, however, came from high school. As a wee adolescent nerd, I was bussed over to a local science facility with others of my kind to learn about a variety of sciences for two periods a day. It was a good program, which allows for the best science teachers in the district (many of whom had been research scientists at some point) to talk to kids who actually cared about the subject.
Despite the unorthodox structure of the program, we were still subject to district regulations: this was nominally everyone’s 9th grade biology class, and so we were required to take the biology End of Course Test just like everyone else. A day was set aside for the teachers to review the very basic biology test with us so that we’d pass with 99s instead of 95s, and so we were slotted into rooms to learn state-mandated science instead of vertebrate biology.
The teachers started off trying to review the biology curriculum. Which they did, for the 15 minutes it took to cover the state-mandated section. However, during the course of the review, one of the teachers made a joke about sex ed. One of the students pointed out that, of course, we didn’t have it. (In theory Georgia mandated abstinence-only education. In practice, the only state-sponsored health ed that I got consisted of a middle school coach telling us that masturbating would make us gay*.)
The scientist were horrified. and–needing to eat up another 2 hours of vertebrate biology review–decided to give us some basic sex ed. Humans do, after all, have spines.
Talking about STIs and STI prevention, one of the women looked us dead on and said, “Women, if you have discharge, there’s a lot of options, most of them not that big a deal. Go to the doctor if it’s unusual.” She paused and eyed the boys in the room. “Men, if you have discharge other than semen or urine?” We all took a moment to register that an adult had just said “semen” in our presence. “Well, there’s a reason that gonorrhea is called ‘the drip.’ Go to a doctor.”
We sat there in uncomfortable silence for a moment, every 14-year-old in the room trying to avoid eye contact with every other 14-year-old.
The clock struck the end of the hour, and we could hear the buses pulling up outside to take us back to school. “Well,” the scientist said, opening the door, “Good luck on the test!”
* My hand to god, I am not making that up.