Tag Archives: legislature

A Teacher, a Cucumber, and a Condom

I am glad to see the teacher in the Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, who had a student present a sex education demonstration with a cucumber and a condom, has been allowed to resume teaching. At issue was whether the teacher had violated House Bill 999, which reads in part, “The instruction or program (sex education) may include a discussion on condoms or contraceptives, but only if that discussion includes a factual presentation of the risks and failure rates of those contraceptives.  In no case shall the instruction or program include any demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied.” Although it is not likely the teacher or the student intended to violate the law, the wording of the bill makes it clear that sex education demonstrations such as the one conducted in Starkville are forbidden.

The purpose of those particular words in the bill is to protect innocent students from graphic displays of sexually arousing lewdness and the psychological damage that would surely follow. Of course, I am sure in this particular situation the psychological impact was about as devastating to the classroom full of high school juniors as it was to the cucumber. I am not saying the teacher should not have been reprimanded for violating the law although the Mississippi Legislature habitually violates the law when it comes to funding education without fear of reprimand, but suspending her for a week may have been a bit much in this particular case. Such a suspension is especially troubling when you consider there is a strong probability the teacher may have never heard of House Bill 999 prior to her rendezvous with the cucumber. However, there are those who will argue that ignorance of the law is not an excuse, and in most cases, that may be true, unless the law happens to be flawed as is the case with HB 999? For example, isn’t using sex education in schools to prevent teenage pregnancy, but not allowing any form of demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied, a little absurd? That is about as sane as teaching skydivers to survive jumping out of airplanes without first demonstrating how to correctly put on a parachute and demonstrate how it works? Let’s not beat around the bush, if we are going to make any headway with kids today about such issues as teen pregnancy, it is time to stop believing in chastity belts and move out of the dark ages.

Although I am not convinced schools are the best place to teach sex education in the first place, I do agree it is the easiest venue in which to capture the targeted audience. However, the issue is not really sex education. My issue is why do lawmakers, not only in Mississippi but across the nation, continue to force schools to do the job of mamas and daddies? Why do lawmakers and the general public continue to scream about the shortcomings of public schools, yet expect public schools to take responsibility for society’s problems and work miracle cures for those problems? Why can’t teachers concentrate on the jobs they were trained to do, and leave delicate family matters to the mamas and daddies, health department, or even the church? Or maybe, if state legislators want sex education taught in the public schools, they should consider volunteering to teach it in their home districts?

The teacher in Starkville was not a vile lecherous person. She did not have an evil agenda to corrupt young minds. Through the presentations, she was working with her students to apply the research, writing, and communication skills she had taught them; the sex education demonstration was simply a byproduct of her doing her job. I doubt seriously, outside of maybe a one time professional development or a reminder in a faculty meeting, that she had any knowledge of HB 999 much less any real training as a sex education teacher.

Maybe, the teacher should have screened the presentations and demonstrations prior to class. Maybe, she did, and not knowing about HB 999, she thought the demonstration was acceptable for 16 and 17 year old high school students. Or, maybe, the student made a last minute change to the demonstration without her knowledge hoping for a better grade.  Regardless of what happened, it is probably not fair to blame anyone or anything with the exception of a well-intended but flawed bill. The student was after the best grade possible, the teacher was doing her job, the Legislature originally passed the bill with the intent to help an escalating problem, teen pregnancy, and the school administration felt they had no choice but to suspend the teacher from the classroom until they could investigate the matter.  All of these had merit, so what went wrong?

The law itself is the culprit! Any law that abdicates parental responsibilities and places those responsibilities elsewhere, such as in the laps of schools, is flawed. Schools naturally take on the role of parents for many students, but to legally burden teachers with responsibilities that rightfully belong to parents is wrong even if it is the easiest and cheapest way to go about addressing issues. Also, if legislators insist on passing such bills as HB 999, they should at least give teachers permission to address the issues in a straight forward manner free of the archaic taboos that help feed the problem in the first place. If not, all that is being accomplished is the likely hood of chasing good teachers out of the profession.

Although the teacher in Starkville was reinstated to teach and hopefully exonerated of any wrong doing, she will most likely carry the scars of her traumatic and humiliating ordeal for the rest of her life. I truly hate that for her, but at the same time, I applaud her for actively engaging her students in the assignment. She could have just as easily played it safe and assigned them worksheets like they received during the week of her absence, or she could have given them the old “sit and git” routine of lecture and classroom busy work assignments. However, she chose to make a difference by actively engaging her students in learning. I just hope her run-in with a cucumber in a rubber overcoat doesn’t make a good teacher reconsider her career choice.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD November 22, 2015

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2015 Legislators vs Educators: The Fight to Keep Mississippi on the Bottom

Governor Phil Bryant says the majority of the public is against the Common Core Standards, so he and the state legislators are obligated to help the public get what it wants by ousting the standards from state schools. However, when a petition requiring Mississippi fully fund education by amending the state constitution was signed by over 116,000 certified voters, the Governor hedged on supporting the public’s will in favor of supporting an alternative proposal by the state legislature designed to confuse the issue and almost assuredly defeat the public initiative. What gives? Does the Governor support the public or not? He is clear about his opposition to the Common Core Standards, and it is obvious he doesn’t support fully funding MAEP. So, when it comes to education, what does he support; what does he really want? He says he wants to see results. He claims too much money has been thrown at education with too little to show for it. He argues money is not the answer, but how would he know since he has played a significant role in short changing Mississippi K-12 education by 1.5 billion dollars over the past several years. His argument for results before funding or standards doesn’t hold water; to get results that lift Mississippi off the bottom of student performance, there must be adequate funding and rigorous standards in place, but maybe results are not the real reason behind his war on education.

Educators across Mississippi agree there is room for improvement, and they would like nothing better than to provide the Governor and state legislators the results they want to see. However, they are met with resistance from the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and state legislators at every turn. Why? It would be hard to believe the legislators are diabolical people out to get educators, but something smells in Mississippi. It seems the mindset in Jackson is to do whatever it takes to tear down K-12 education in the state, but to what end? Why are so many state legislators opposing more rigorous standards and full funding for education in one breath while calling for better student performance results in another? Many of these people are business men and women, so they should understand that outcomes are achieved in direct proportion to what you put in – whether it is in private business or education. You get what you pay and prepare for, so what gives in the Mississippi legislature?

It is becoming clear that opponents in the state legislature to rigorous standards and full funding of education want to keep Mississippi where it has been for over a hundred years – on the bottom educationally and economically. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor and many state legislators have never had any intention of fully funding education nor have they been serious about improving rigor and student achievement in the classroom. They want to ensure the present balance of the “haves” and the “have nots;” that is where their power lies, but of course, there is no balance between the two. Without rigorous education standards to challenge the state’s children as well as adequate funding to keep quality teachers in the classrooms, pay for resources and programs, and maintain adequate facilities, Mississippi is guaranteed to maintain its current socioeconomic imbalance, cheap labor force, and the submissive “Yes, Master” mentality of the poor. Adam Smith who is often cited as the “father of modern economics,” probably said it best, “The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations.” In Mississippi the aspirations of the “have nots” have never known equality with the “haves,” nor can they ever hope or dream of true equality in their fight for true liberty and pursuit of happiness without an education to give wings to their aspirations. Without properly educating all children, Mississippi’s perennial position of last in just about every education and economic category will continue unabated.

If the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the many legislators who have made it clear they have given up on children, teachers, and Mississippi education as a whole get their way, the only thing we will need to seal the deal as permanent bottom dwellers will be a state symbol for education in Mississippi. We have a state bird, state flower, and maybe soon even a state book. All these symbols, the mockingbird, the magnolia, and the Bible tell who we are as Mississippians. If the Common Core Standards are cast out and full funding of MAEP is not upheld, maybe the perfect state symbol for education would be a crumbling school house. What symbol would better explain our state leadership, our priorities, and who we are as Mississippians?

JL

©Jack Linton, January 18, 2015