This posting deals with human sexuality. It may not be work-safe.
(I began this article as a comment to another blogger's posting. I decided to make it a full-length posting because I wanted to go into more detail than a comment would reasonably allow.)
Years ago on Bill Maher's excellent talk show “Politically Incorrect”, one of that evening's guests, Reverend Jerry Falwell, remarked that there was an epidemic of oral sex in American middle schools. In response to this burst of hyperbole, Maher quipped “I have got to re-enroll!”. The audience cracked up.
No one was laughing when news media in and around Oakland, California reported recently on a sex scandal at Markham Elementary School. But this time it's not about a 34-year-old teacher's illicit affair with a 13-year-old student of hers. The incident under discussion here involves two second-grade students who reportedly had oral sex with one another.
Naturally, hearing the news of this incident made my jaw damn near hit the floor. Even though I learned the “F”-word and what it stood for from my sixth-grade classmates, even though we told each other dirty jokes whenever we got the chance, the idea of a boy and a girl only two years into their grade school education engaging in patently adult behavior simply did not make any logical sense. I mean, where'd they even get the idea from? When I was their age, the very idea of putting one's mouth “down there” was considered too gross to even think about let alone do.
The discussion surrounding the matter has been spirited, to say the least, both in the local media and in this very forum. Words like “horrible situation for the kids” and “loss of innocence” are being tossed around. Irate parents are understandably calling for heads to roll. The usual suspects, Internet porn, sex on TV, sex in movies and so on, are being rounded up.
To all this I just want to say, hold it. Take a deep breath. No, what happened is not acceptable by any stretch. But unless there's evidence of coercion or other criminal activity, what we may have here is just one version (if a misguided one) of the kind of sexual self-discovery which children have been engaging in ever since kids started playing “Doctor”.
To further illustrate my point, when I was just a little younger than the kids involved in this case, there was no Internet and therefore no Internet pornography. For that matter there was no porn of any kind to be found in my folks' home. There was no sex on TV. At the time, even married couples were shown sleeping in separate beds. Movies were nearly all “for general audiences”; the Motion Picture Association of America had yet to issue its first PG-13, R or NC-17 certificate for a movie. I recall that about that time in my life, it was not at all uncommon for boys and girls to catch glimpses of one's siblings of the opposite sex in the altogether during a typical week. This inevitably led to heated discussions in which we speculated as to why boys and girls were built so differently. Among the conclusions that we reached were that it probably had to do with the ability to wear party dresses, or that it was much more fun to have a directable urine stream with which one could decorate an otherwise uninteresting snow bank. If anyone did anything inappropriate, I didn't hear of it. And, like a lot of young boys, I discovered completely by accident that touching myself in certain places and in certain ways felt really, really good. Despite all this, I grew up to be as sexually well-adjusted as (or at least no more maladjusted than) most members of my generation.
Was the Markham School incident evidence of a breakdown in discipline? It certainly was, not unlike those instances in which a lot of us cut classes and sneaked out of school or conspired to cheat on tests when we were students. Who should get the blame? If someone wasn't doing their job, by all means, lower the boom on them. What I'm afraid might happen though, is that the school administration may go well beyond appropriate remedies in the interest of saving face and placating angry parents as well as the odd politician. Otherwise conscientious teachers who have to shoulder ever-increasing work loads while making do with ever-shrinking resources could be made to take the hit.
The two kids at issue here must learn that doing what they did where they did it is not acceptable behavior. What also concerns me is that the humiliation which they've no doubt suffered could be compounded by punishments which end up making them believe that any kind of sex is wrong or harmful, or that their classmates might be issued a similar message. In the prevailing emotional climate surrounding this affair, opportunistic religious-right types could easily strong-arm the local school board into giving them control and authority which they in no way deserve.
If there is any credible evidence that either one of these kids engaged in this kind of behavior because he or she was molested by an adult or an older student, then that possibility must be very promptly and very thoroughly investigated. If the kids imitated something which they saw their parents or other adults watching, then those people need to keep that kind of material under strict lock and key and only watch it when the kids aren't around; adult web sites must be blocked on any computers that these kids might use. And if the kids were imitating something they saw some adults actually doing, then those adults need to keep the damn bedroom door shut.
When all this is over, I sincerely hope that logic prevails, that discipline and confidence are restored, and that these kids and their classmates are ultimately given the facts and the tools they need to develop healthy sex lives as adults.