Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Our own "Weinergate"

The webernets is all abuzz with "Weinergate," the scandal du jour, in which a photo of what may or may not be the li'l "chief of staff" of Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) was tweeted to a young lady who is not Mrs. Weiner.

What's made the story more intriguing is that Weiner's explanation keeps changing, from "My account was hacked," to "Uh..., I mean it was a prank," to "No comment -- talk to my lawyer." Whatever the case, I certainly feel bad for the aforementioned Mrs. Weiner as well as for the young lady who, it seems, did not solicit the image of the pup tent in question.

I think we can all agree that it is not appropriate to subject young women to images of man-bits against their will. With that stipulated, my story for this post does not involve a young woman, but my nine year old daughter.

She is about to finish the 4th grade, and a few weeks ago, her class concluded a "Family Life" unit with the viewing of a video. Fortunately, her teacher did give parents a heads-up that it was forthcoming and offered the opportunity to preview the video. More fortunately, I took her up on the offer.

The video was, "The New improved Me: Understanding Body Changes." From the vendor,
Give young teens an information-packed explanation of male and female body changes to help them accept puberty as an exciting and important event in their lives. And a normal healthy part of growing up.

THE NEW, IMPROVED ME: UNDERSTANDING BODY CHANGES is a two-part program that is designed to explain the physical changes that boys and girls can expect to undergo during this period. The program's goal is to present puberty in a positive way, demystifying a process that can be puzzling and frightening to youngsters who are ill-informed or unprepared to face this transition. A theme that is central to both parts of the program is puberty as a natural and normal occurrence whose exact onset cannot be predicted. Every person has a different "body timer" that was set before he or she was born and can’t be slowed down or sped up.

Note: Does not cover masturbation.
[Thank heavens for that! - Ed.]

The vendor indicates the grade level for this video as 5 - 9, so it would seem a bit advanced for a 4th grade class, but I checked it out with an open mind.

The video is split nicely into two parts: the first half about boys' body changes, and the second half about girls' body changes. After my preview, I sent a note back to the teacher to say I'd watched it, and it was ok for my daughter to participate. I knew the boys and girls would be separated when they watched, so I asked just to confirm that the boys would be watching only the boy half and the girls would be watching only the girls half of the movie... Right??....

Uh, no.

The plan was to have all students watch both halves of the video. It seems the Hopkins School District had decided that it was perfectly fine for my nine year old girl to be subjected to graphic images of male genitalia as well as descriptions of semen production, erections, and ejaculation.

Upon learning that, I pulled her out of that portion of the class (she did watch the girls' part - only), but I feel bad for the parents who simply trusted that their child's teacher wouldn't show them anything inappropriate.

I understand that kids can begin puberty as early as age 10, I see the value in having my daughter learn about the changes that will soon be happening to her, and I thought the presentation of that message in the video was fine.

I am also certain, however, that she is not a little boy (I even have the long-form birth certificate to prove it!), and I do not understand what the school hopes to accomplish by presenting her with images of the male anatomy at this age.

As luck would have it, there was a School Board meeting that very week, so I took the opportunity to pose this question directly to them. The meeting was recorded for the public, so if you want to hear what I had to say, use this link, select the May 19, 2011 meeting (warning - big file), and go to the 8:00 mark.

They still haven't answered the question directly, but I was contacted by the person who coordinates the curricula for the district and was invited to be a parent representative when they update the health curricula and materials during next school year. I absolutely will be participating, and I pray that I can have some influence regarding the age-propriety of future materials.

In the meantime, please consider this a reminder to parents of school-aged children to remain ever-vigilant about knowing what their kids are being taught.

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