The school system is in a transitioning phase. Educators are becoming less omissive toward topics that were once deemed inappropriate for the classroom… like sex. In every subject; science, psychology, literature, history, writing, foreign language, (all subjects except maybe math. Really, even I can’t make an argument there), human sexuality becomes a relevant and even necessary topic at one point or another.
I’ve heard very valid arguments for why sex should be more or less taboo in the classroom. But that’s not what this article is taking a stance on. Instead, I want to talk about an observation I’ve had: the amount that constitutes “too much” sexual content is in a very different place between school subjects.
In a few months I will have completed four years of high school, comprised of over 20,000 ninety-minute block periods, but who’s counting? The point is, I’m a professional at attending classroom lectures and as a professional, I am here to tell you that squeamish sexual topics really do come up naturally.
They range from the approved curriculum of our two week Health Class, to unplanned teachable moments in biology class, to explained Shakespeare puns in literature, to historical sculptures from art history or graphic passages from the literary canon which the AP Board expects students to maturely analyze and interpret.
Every teacher makes a decision in handling these instances. Some choose to avoid them and truncate an explanation, a move which usually does not go unnoticed by we the people. Other teachers choose to embrace these topics as necessary giggle-inducing aspects of a subject matter. Other teachers manage to cover these topics in such a serious manner that they pass by as mundanely as every other slide in the PowerPoint.
What I have observed is that there is an inconsistency between what we are expected to be able to handle in classes like literature, psychology, art, and humanities, and what we are expected to be able to handle in all other classes. This occurred to me when one time I was wondering why our Spanish vocabulary lesson about body parts hadn’t descended any further than “el estomago,” when we had just come out of a lit class spent analyzing the scene – spoiler alert, when Benjy from William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” gets castrated. Benjy is not a dog.
My point is, why are we expected to be capable of maturity in some subjects, and not others?
I estimate the majority of the books on Pinewood Upper Campus’s reading list contains sex acts. Off the top of my head, sex acts, whether graphically descriptive or heavily implied, occur in books like “Oedipus Rex,” “The Sound and the Fury,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” “The Poisonwood Bible,” “Heart of Darkness,” “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Scarlet Letter,” “East of Eden,” “Beloved,” “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress,” “Kubla Khan,” “Brave New World,” “Of Mice and Men,” and a good few Shakespeare plays.
Some of these are books we dive into in eighth grade. By the later years of high school, not only are we expected to understand sex scenes based in romance or marriage, (like in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”), but far more often scenes involving nonconsent, incest, violence, gore, and sexual assault (see most pages of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”).
Literature isn’t the only subject frequently rubbing up against heavier sexual content. The AP Board-designed curriculum features countless historical works of art with blatant sexual themes, let alone an infinite amount of nudity. And don’t get me started on psychology class. Conversations about sexuality are absolutely necessary in these subjects. Because of this, teachers of these subjects accept that their students can handle the contents quite a bit.
Now let’s remember that I don’t know the word for “butt” in Spanish. And how I’ve seen science teachers mumble that we don’t have to “go there” with the class discussion. And math teachers…okay math really is exempt from this rant. Keep doing what you’re doing, math. What about when science textbooks have been rejected from classroom use because of minor amounts of sexual content?
I find this inconsistency strange and unnecessary. Again, I’m not sure whether we should tone down the intensity of the content in the reading choices (I’m looking at you, “Beloved”), or if we should be tone down censorship in other classes.
Regardless of what may be done about it, the inconsistency is there. To teachers, administration, parents, students, and any hamsters (using this article as bedding) that are reading this, I believe that students’ educations could benefit if we ask ourselves why this inconsistency exists.