This week and the next, Mr. N is highlighting his experiences with religion and sexuality in the classroom. Check out the previous post.
Once, during an ecology lesson, I asked students to brainstorm factors that limit the size of the human population. I was expecting to hear answers like food, water, shelter, disease, but no: by far the most common answer was “abortion”.
While I try to avoid the issue as much as possible, a student forced it on me the other day by inquiring about stem cell research. Another student asked when a fetus’ heart begins to beat, and she was indignant when I didn’t know the answer – “Aren’t you a biology teacher?” My response – that I didn’t bother learning it because it’s a completely irrelevant factoid – had the good sense to stay in my brain. The moment then became completely surreal as another student began chanting “a person’s a person, no matter how small!” over and over again.
I have my own opinion on abortion, which I’m sure is clear to the reader at this point, but I don’t feel the need to push it on my students. There is one attitude about reproduction that I am completely intent on changing, however.
In my students’ community, teen pregnancy is often not seen as an unfortunate mishap, but rather a cause for celebration. Both girls and boys see childbearing as a sign of maturity and a way to attract attention, and since care is often a generation removed (as in, babies are raised by grandparents), the costs are diminished as well – except the opportunity cost of a lost career. It’s a little worrisome to hear a 14-year-old boy in my class joke that he wants to have eight kids – “enough for my own soccer team” – when seniors are dropping out because of unplanned pregnancies.
When I taught my week of sex ed in biology, I made sure to include a completely unglamorous video of natural childbirth in which the wrinkled, blue-tinted baby emerged in a flood of screams and amniotic fluid. Students covered their eyes in horror, especially the girls. When one blurted out “Damn! That’s not how it looks on Teen Mom!” I smiled to myself with the satisfaction of a job well done.