Posted on | July 6, 2010 | No Comments
I volunteer at Los Angeles-area public schools teaching sex ed to 9th graders. At the end of every class, I hand out index cards to the kids and they write down questions they don’t want to ask out loud. These are your kid’s questions. These are my answers.
When I tell people that I teach sex ed to kids, they often ask if I’m freaked out about how much porn they’ve been exposed to or about their being too sexual too soon. It’s true that lots of the kids have seen porn and that they’re more sexually precocious than I was at their age, although that’s not saying much. But none of that freaks me out. What sends me into a panic is the shocking number of them who border on illiterate.
I’m not a spelling and grammar ninny. I misspell words all the time myself. But this kid didn’t brain fart and write an e for an a. Ninth grade, and he or she is phonetically spelling the words pregnant and female, as if he or she had never read or written either.
The full question was “Can you get a famle pregnet from sex in the anus with a com condom.” The kid had so effectively lowered my expectations with famle and pregnet, that by the end of the sentence, I had become a fan (based on the correct spelling of anus and the prudent correction of condom), so was entirely unphased by the lack of a question mark.
While reading the question aloud, I lingered over my pronunciation of fe-male and preg-nant, then I said that the answer was no. Condom or no, anal sex isn’t going to lead to a pregnancy, but I didn’t offer that information, since a large part of the reason we’re there is to get kids in the mode of thinking of condoms as a non-optional part of their sex-gear. It is highly unlikely for anal sex to lead to pregnancy. Overspill that arrives at the mouth of the vagina isn’t at hazard of fertilizing anyone. Sperm aren’t army rangers with grappling hooks and rapelling ropes. They pretty much need to be deposited inside the vagina to have any chance of reaching the fallopian tubes.
Every once in a while, I show a question like this one to a teacher. They generally roll their eyes and tell me I don’t know the half of it. When they feel like talking, the most consistent answer I’ve gotten to how a kid this uneducated could be sitting in a ninth-grade classroom is “social promotion.”
Social promotion is the practice of passing a failing child on to the next grade based on the idea that it’s more beneficial to keep a kid with his or her peers than it is to actually teach them the curriculum. Teachers want to hold back kids who aren’t making it. They know very well the trouble they are causing when they don’t. And they acutely realize the benefits of giving a kid firm footing before letting him or her step forward. The grades where social promotion are just devastating to a child’s education are first and second. Without an iron-fisted grasp of basic reading, writing and math skills, socially promoted kids get lost in the now-inscrutable curriculum of the next grade and they never find their way back on track.
One teachers talked to me about the particular benefits of holding back boys. Aside from the academic problems a particular boy might be experiencing, they are also likely to be less mature than girls, so they often can find a more appropriate peer group by stepping back one year.
It’s the administrators, bureaucrats and lawmakers (who are safely located miles away from classrooms) who demand that teachers pass most or all of their students every year. If a teacher wants to fail a kid, they have to jump through several hoops and get the kid’s parents on board to do so. But I don’t want to imply that the administrators, bureaucrats and lawmakers are evil. They are all staring at budgets that barely allow them to educate a kid once, much less twice, so they probably invented the idea of social promotion to somewhat justify keeping the conveyor belt moving, since it’s something they have to do anyhow.
In my home state of California, the voters themselves are at least half responsible for the schools having insufficient funds to educate children. In 1976, the decision in Serrano vs Priest, an equal rights court case in CA, judged that it was unfair for rich districts to have better schools than poor districts. So middle and upper class people lost interest in a public school system (unless they lived in independent municipalities like Santa Monica or Beverly Hills where the pretty ubiquitous wealth kept the quality high regardless of this ruling). Not at all by coincidence, the infamous Prop 13, passed two years later, gutting the property tax base that schools used to get their money from. The middle class resoundingly decided, “OK, if I can’t use my property tax to make my own children’s school better, then guess what? I’m not going to pay any property tax. Eat that up with a spoon.”
(This is a classic repeat of the Marx by way of Lenin error of unhooking the middle class from the cart. It’s a fascinating story about how Kulaks (middle class farmers) were ruthlessly persecuted for being elitist and then, unsurprisingly, the whole Russian agricultural system fell apart because the old farming know how had been killed off and none of the youngsters had any incentive to achieve. Lesson being, never unhook the middle class from the cart.)
And prop 13 required a 2/3 vote to pass any revenue measure. This allows tiny oppositional groups to hold up a budget for any reason and has kept the state in an almost constant fiscal crisis since that stupid constitutional amendment was passed. Certainly, nothing logical can happen like money being given to failing schools.
In 1978, California had a top ranked school system, now we’re in the bottom five, depending on the test or study you look at. From 2003 to 2007, we decreased spending on schools by 4% but increased spending in the justice department (meaning prisons) by 56%.
The philosophy in California is: Don’t educate people, just throw them in jail. Here’s a quote from a 2009 article in the Silicon Valley Mercury News:
The state prison system received the biggest share [of the budget increase], about $4.1 billion of it. Corrections spending has increased fivefold since 1994. At $13 billion last year , it now exceeds spending on higher education. Tough laws and voter-approved ballot measures have increased the prison population 82 percent over the past 20 years.
Conservatives in California are always up in arms about the all powerful teachers union but you never hear complaints about the prison guard union. Judging from recent events, the teacher’s union isn’t halfway as effective as the prison guards union in getting their interests served.
If he forgets what my answer was, maybe, when he grows up, my little 9th grader can ask his prison guard how famles get pregnet.