I first saw reference to this article a couple of days ago, with the title of something like, “Teacher Being Punished for Saying ‘Vagina’ in Class”. This, combined with the fact that it happened in Idaho, obviously got my attention.
Here’s the skinny: Tim McDaniel is a biology teacher. For those of us who have had biology, you know what this means. You study the phylogenetic tree, do some dissections, learn about mitosis, and then take at least one test on the goddamned Krebs Cycle before purging it from your brain forever. Well, this guy’s a little different. He does all of that, but he also teaches sex education … and has been for the last 17 years.
Why, you might ask?
Because the school’s health teacher is “uncomfortable” doing it himself. Let that one sink in. This kind of education is absolutely vital, especially in an area where according to McDaniel, most of the students in the school will end up married a couple years after they graduate. (High school, not college.)
Well, after 17 years, some parents have started complaining. There’s quite a laundry list, too, so here’s the breakdown:
- Shared confidential student files with an individual other than their parents.
- Taught sex education material in his science class.
- Showed a video clip in class depicting an infection of genital herpes.
- Taught different forms of birth control.
- Told inappropriate jokes in class.
- Used inappropriate language in class.
- Used school property to promote political candidates.
Given that the first time I heard about this, the issue was his use of the word “vagina”, I suspect that’s the basis for the complaint of “inappropriate language”. Again, none of this would be necessary if the health teacher did what he was supposed to do and teach these kids age-appropriate sex education himself.
Oh, and the endorsement of a political candidate? He showed the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” to start a discussion of anthropogenic global warming. Not only is that directly relevant for a biology class, the fact of global warming and the causes behind it are fairly well established at this point. To call the movie political – and to suggest somehow that it “promotes” political candidates – is kind of silly. Besides, I’m not too sure Al Gore is running for office these days.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing more I can find about the first bullet item. I have no idea what the details are, but if it’s real, that might be the only thing I could see sticking. If it’s school policy to share confidential information to parents only, then them’s the rules. If I had to guess, though, it sounds to me like the real meat of the issue is the fact that McDaniels is teaching these kids about sex and their parents don’t like it. At least, that’s what they were vocal about.
Tim McDaniel, who teaches 10th grade science at Dietrich School, told the Twin Falls Times-News that four parents were upset when they learned that his lesson included the word “vagina” and information about the biology behind female orgasm.
I had to think about why this was somehow objectionable until I discovered this:
Sixty-six percent of church goers in Lincoln County, where Dietrich is located, are affiliated with the Mormon LDS Church, according to 2002 Glenmary Research Center data.
So not only were they offended by the talk of girly parts, but also about the idea that people are causing global warming. Damn that reality and its liberal bias! In fairness, though, McDaniels already had been giving kids the option to skip out of class before some of the more anatomically graphic items were being presented, and claims he doesn’t deviate from the textbook materials.
“I teach straight out of the textbook, I don’t include anything that the textbook doesn’t mention,” McDaniel said. “But I give every student the option not attend this class when I teach on the reproductive system if they don’t feel comfortable with the material.”
Problem is, with just about every teen facing the likelihood of being in a situation where they’ll need to know this material, the last thing they should do is have the option to avoid it because it makes them uncomfortable.
There is some good news: the superintendent sounds pretty level-headed about all of this, and the students are right behind him. It also doesn’t look like McDaniels is in danger of losing his job. The worst might be a reprimand (which he says he won’t sign … I wouldn’t either). But no matter what happens to him, it doesn’t address the root cause: a science teacher is taking extra responsibilities (and admittedly doing a good job of it) because of a failure of one of the other faculty members. If that had been addressed 17 years ago by bringing in someone else, they wouldn’t have this problem to begin with.
Looking at Idaho’s policy on sex ed, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re not very good at establishing preventive measures (even though they seem to be pretty lucky for the time being):
Although 40 percent of high school students in Idaho report already having had sex, the law does not require or set guidelines for discussion of HIV, STI, or pregnancy prevention in schools.
Idaho does not require sexuality education for students. If sex ed is taught, Idaho law states that it must stress abstinence, while no requirements are made for providing information about condoms and contraception. Legal statutes governing sex education: 33-1608 , 33-1609 , 33-1610 , 33-1611
Face it, parents; this guy’s been doing your kids a favor. Thank him.