Do you ever think, “Wow, I wish I was that cool in middle school”? Usually, I get that feeling when watching something like Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel. I mean, have you seen that girl’s closet?
No, for me, middle school was a lot of time spent in Dr. Watlington’s office having my braces tightened (torture chamber for teeth) and a lot time spent hiding in bathrooms during “dances” (torture chambers for hormones). In few words, I was not very cool.
So I experienced an immediate sense of jealousy when I read about two teenagers – nay, middle schoolers- who were suspended for protesting their school’s abstinence-only “sex ed” program. And while my middle school protest against horrible abstinence-only programming was to swipe a bunch of virginity pledge cards from the classroom, these girls had the courage to put themselves in the direct line of fire.
Earlier this week, Tori Shoemaker and Cheyenne Byrd donned home-made shirts that read “Safe Sex or No Sex” and went into school, teaching their classmates more about safe sex than their school’s curriculum. And, naturally, they were suspended, because, as one school official said, the shirts were a “distraction.”
Teaching safe sex practices to middle schoolers is a testy subject. After all, Middle School is split between the girls who can and can’t wear denim miniskirts. I was not a girl who owned a denim miniskirt, but there were plenty of them in my class – and the boys noticed them. As unpleasant as it is, middle schoolers, yes, those youth who only a year ago professed their undying love for Hannah Montana, are having sex.
But what do you do? This problem confronted my alma mater, an all-girls school grades 6-12 when I was a student there. When they were redesigning (thank goodness) the horrible sex-“ed” curriculum I endured, they ran into the problem of explaining sex to those less mature girls in the class, for whom those lessons are not yet applicable.
Simple. Herd all the eighth graders in a room, weed them out by skirt length, and send the girls like me away, clutching our copies of Harry Potter under our arms, then keep everyone else there for a sex lesson. No, that’s a horrible idea.
Sex ed in Middle Schools isn’t just for the kids who need it now. It’s for the kids who will need it later. A study by the Guttmacher Institute states that many teens receiving sex education are getting it too late. WE HAVE TO CATCH THESE KIDS EARLY.
The Guttmacher Institute figured it out. Two eighth graders figured it out. You can’t just slide sex-ed into a high school curriculum midway through the year and hope you only missed a few. Sex ed has to start early. Because the kids who don’t need it in middle school become the kids who learn about it too late in high school, or not at all.
Marshall Bright is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and an intern at the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project, ACLU of Pennsylvania