I recently read a newspaper article about the newly adopted sex-education curriculum in the state of Mississippi. In the city of Oxford, the following exercise is included: Students pass around a Peppermint Patty chocolate and observe how spoiled it becomes in the handling. The condition of the candy is purportedly illustrative of how sullied and worthless a girl becomes when she engages in sexual activity.
I thought the drill was appalling, and a basic waste of time. But in a somewhat lazy analysis on my end, I surmised that this is, after all, Mississippi – part of the backward-thinking, conservative South, not known for an outstanding educational system to begin with.
I posted on Facebook the details of the school exercise without mentioning any stereotypes of the Deep South that were coursing through my brain. One of my Facebook friends – a high school English teacher in Southern California – read my post and commented that a student had one day walked into her classroom, looking sick to his stomach. When she made inquiries into his health, he explained that his math teacher had just dared the entire class to eat as many full-sized Snickers candy bars as they could. Naturally, the kids started out like a pack of wolves, frenzied and ravenous, but the more they ate, the more indifferent they became. And this, according to the math teacher, was a metaphor for sex.
For me, the two bonus shockers in my friend’s anecdote were that the incident had occurred (A) in a math – as opposed to a legit sex ed – class, and (B) in California. California – so unMississippi-esque, with liberal L.A. and tolerant San Francisco commanding either end of the state. Sunny California – literally enlightened! – whose economy is so big, it ranks among actual nations: eighth in the world, sparring partners with Italy and Russia. This implies that the state has resources to combat the effects of poverty and ignorance, and that it probably champions a dynamic, forward-thinking culture that ought to be a few steps ahead of those other states that feel more at home with tradition and stasis rather than innovation and movement. In other words, California should know better.
But apparently it doesn’t, and you just can’t get too many reminders in life that personal assumptions (like, those guys over there are nuts, but we over here live in the house that sanity built) can be wrong.
So good luck, Mississippi, with figuring out how to guide youthful minds around the issue of sex. Here on the West Coast, we’re doing our darndest trying not to screw up our own kids too badly as well.
Eventually, the math teacher my friend had described did not receive a contract renewal, so presumably he had some time to both review the subject area in which he actually might have had expertise and seek counseling for the other subject area in which he demonstrably had none. I suppose I can consider that progress.
As for my own development, I’m even less sure. I still wonder if that math teacher was a transplant from some other state.