Category Archives: education

Shame is Not a Form of Birth Control

I had to double-check my calendar this morning to assure myself that it was actually 2013 and I hadn’t been sucked into a time warp.

I hadn’t been.

Instead, I was sucked into reading news articles about a school assembly featuring an abstinence-only proponent whose only educational credential is a Psychology Degree from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

See: http://www.dailymail.com/News/201304110267 and http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201304110229 .

I can’t emphasize enough how inappropriate the assembly was.

Almost 20 years ago, when I was working in the field of sex education, experts had already proven that abstinence-only and shame-based tactics don’t work. And promoting a particular religious philosophy in a public school is simply prohibited.

But self-righteous people, who believe they actually know what God is thinking, seem to find a way around these issues.

The speaker, Pam Stenzel, and her sponsors, a religious group called Believe in West Virginia, say her speech wasn’t faith-based. Instead they say it was just a warning about the dangers of sex before marriage.

Those few words should have been enough to keep this woman out of the public schools.

A real sex educator doesn’t pretend that a wedding ring can protect people from a sexually transmitted disease, an unplanned pregnancy or heartache.

A real sex educator doesn’t outright dismiss homosexuals, who are still fighting for the right to even be married.

And a real sex educator doesn’t condemn, judge or shame.

Instead, a real sex educator gives facts – not statistics that have been manipulated to fit a certain dogma.

A real sex educator will agree that sex is the only human behavior that has the potential to create life or to threaten a life. The educator’s job is to help individuals make decisions to prevent unwanted consequences.

And a real sex educator will spend time talking about healthy relationships and about treating others with respect –  not condemnation.

Years ago, I was that person, and I will never forget making a presentation about AIDS and HIV in a middle school classroom. As I interacted with the students, the teacher, who was obviously not happy I was there, took out his Bible and placed it open on his desk. He pretended to read, and I pretended to ignore him.

A year later, I had the same assignment and found myself in the same classroom. But instead of taking out his Bible, the teacher made a point of welcoming me and telling his students they should listen. He then privately told me that “a really good person” from his church had been diagnosed with AIDS. Instead of noting that a lot of “really good people” had been diagnosed with AIDS, I was just grateful that he had become a bit more open and less judgmental.

Now, I am hoping the same for all those involved in permitting the recent school assembly at George Washington High School.

My Lifetime Battle with the Big, Yellow School Bus

This Monday, my son starts high school and my daughter starts middle school.

I could grieve how quickly the years have flown. I could pull out baby pictures and wallow in nostalgia. I could reminisce about how, just yesterday, my son was starting kindergarten.

Or I could celebrate that, because both of my children are attending school out of district, my epic battle with the big, yellow school bus may just finally be over — permanently.

The battle began when I was in first grade. Having spent kindergarten walking to school, I was  ecstatic that we had moved to a house that required riding a school bus.

My enthusiasm didn’t last long.

The problems started on the first day of school when I thought I could handle the bus ride all by myself. And I did. Going to school was simple. The bus picked me up in front of my house and dropped me off at school. My biggest challenge was getting to my classroom.

Going home proved a bit more difficult. I got on bus number 25, rode it to my street and rode it to my house. I then rode it past my house because my timid calls to stop weren’t heard over the din of bus chatter.  Even though the bus failed to stop at my house, it did seem to stop at almost every other house in the county. When her route finally ended, the bus driver turned around, gave me a pointed look and asked me where I lived.

I proudly declared my well-memorized address “1910 Bean Drive.”

The bus driver did not look happy. “We went right past there. Why didn’t you get off?”

“Because you didn’t stop,” I replied.

Without a legitimate comeback, the bus driver had to make a decision. She’d take me home on her next run. Surrounded by kids two or three times my age and size, I finally made it home to an almost hysterical mother.

I wasn’t used to my mother being so worried. I was used to my mother being in control of every aspect of my life… including what I ate. And while I pined to have a lunch box with a bologna sandwich on white bread and ding dongs like all the other kids, my mom packed a very different lunch.  Ever day I carried a brown bag (that she ask I bring home to be recycled) with a peanut butter (no added sugar) and honey sandwich on home-made wheat bread, carrot sticks, an apple and powdered milk in a square container with a lid (no thermos for me).

I hated that milk. I never drank that milk. But day after day, my mom packed it in a brown paper bag and day after day I carried the brown bag and the container still full of milk home from school.

Then, the inevitable happened, and I dropped the bag onto the floor of the school bus. The milk, which was already at room temperature, spilled everywhere.  The bus driver was not at all pleased with me, so I should have known the situation would get even worse.  And it did.

Only weeks later, my mother put her car in the shop near my school and needed a ride home.  Being practical, she arrived at my school just as classes were ending and climbed onto bus number 25 with the first and second graders. At least she tried to climb on the bus, but the driver wouldn’t let her.

My mother insisted that there was plenty of room and the bus was going right to our house anyway. The driver told her no. After what seemed like the longest argument (and one of the most embarrassing moments of my life), the principal finally came over to settle the matter.

My mother had to find her own way home.

I’m pretty sure that was the day my name was officially added the national school bus “beware of this student” watch list.  (That’s the list distributed nationwide to every single school bus driver.)

The list is the only explanation as to why, even after I moved across the country, the new school bus driver didn’t like me either.

In that case, the feeling was mutual. I had no respect for a woman who, instead of looking at the road, was constantly looking in the mirror to see what the kids were doing. After a few very close and dangerous calls on winding, West Virginia roads, my friend and I decided we’d had enough and organized a protest. We told everyone on the bus to duck down below the backs of the seats. The next time the driver looked in the mirror, her bus appeared empty.

We though this was hilarious. Our bus driver didn’t. In fact, she was so angry, she stopped the bus and marched up and down the aisle taking  names and phone numbers  Once she got mine, she seemed satisfied in learning that the girl on the national watch list was the culprit.  What she didn’t expect was that my parents sided with me. They didn’t, however, think the incident warranted a life-time pass from riding the school bus, and I was still forced to ride for a couple more years.

But now, my days on the bus have come to an end, and, except for a few field trips, they have ended for my children as well.

Like so many other parts of childhood, all that is left are the memories and the lessons learned. Now it’s time to make more memories and learn something new. I’m just glad that neither is likely to involve a big, yellow school bus.