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Special Stores, Special Schools and Especially Ignorant People

pI always appreciate when someone else gets outraged. That’s not to say I ever want someone to get angry. But since I’m usually the person loudly stating my opinions or expressing indignation at some injustice, I can relate when others do the same.

I was getting my hair done the other day when another woman was waging a battle.

“My unemployed uncle,” she said, “is posting the most ignorant comments on Facebook. “He’s collecting unemployment and complaining about people who use food stamps. He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.”

The woman typed something into her phone as she talked. “It’s not even food stamps any more. There are no stamps. It’s called SNAP and you get the benefits on a card.”

She typed something else then put down her phone.

“You would think,” she said, “he would know better than to make those comments when he knows I’ll see them.”

The woman who was speaking is knowledgeable, well spoken, hard-working and generous. She recently donated a half-day spa treatment to charity, and she won’t get paid for the hours she provides the service. She made the donation because the charity helped her when she was a teen mom.

“When I was a 17,” she said, “I had a child, was working and going to school. I was anything but lazy.”

A few minutes later, she picked up her phone again.

“Oh this is priceless,” she said. “He just posted that there should be special stores for people who get food stamps. He thinks those stores should be specially stocked with low-price items and no beer or cigarettes.”

As she typed in a response, another woman said, “Well I have to agree that people shouldn’t be allowed to buy beer and cigarettes with food stamps.”

“They aren’t,” several of us said at once.

Granted, SNAP recipients can use their cards to buy food and use cash to buy beer and cigarettes. Unfortunately, those are the minority everyone notices. What we don’t notice are the people like the older woman I saw the other day using coupons with her SNAP card.

The conversation led to a short educational session about how people actually can’t buy beer or cigarettes with their SNAP cards. Neither can they buy toilet paper, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, toothpaste nor other necessities that aren’t food. Everyone agreed that the federal program would be more beneficial if it operated more like WIC, which provides vouchers for specific, healthy and nutritional food.

“What did you say back to your uncle?” I finally asked.

“I suggested that if he thinks poor people are such a problem, then maybe we should have special schools just for poor kids. Not only that, but we need to stencil the letter “P” for poverty on all their clothes. You know, we should make sure we marginalize them so they don’t have any hope at all.”

For the remainder of my hair appointment, no matter what the topic, we kept coming back to the concept of special stores. People who sing off-key in public? Special stores. Rude people? Special stores. Snobs? Special stores. Wait, they think they already have them.

As I was scheduling my next appointment, I asked the woman if her uncle had responded to her latest comment.

“No,” she said,  “He must have figured out that you don’t mess with someone who has received food stamps. Some people might think I was a drain on society and never contributed anything, but I’m pretty sure I have.”

Everyone in the beauty shop agreed with her.

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.