Belated Apology To My Health Teacher
Mr. N, you probably forget many of your students, but you remember me. I was impossible. I had your health class, and I was the biggest thorn in your side that you’ve probably ever had.
The stoners and future dropouts you could handle. They just cut up in class. They had no agenda but to alleviate boredom. What did you make of the political radical you had on your hands? What do you say to a teen chewing you out for promoting the idea that abstinence has advantages, when you’re already teaching one of the best comprehensive sex ed programs in the country? How do you tell a sixteen year old hothead about the limits of the possible? How could you tell me I didn’t know how good I had it?
(And, to be fair to me, you didn’t try. Like most of the staff, you were so sick of me that you pretty much blew me off. I might have listened; I was radical, but I was smart. Or you could have had the Women’s Studies teacher sit down with me and explain the Overton Window. I took her more seriously than I took you.)
So I sat in the back and hated you. I knew all the information in the curriculum, I was really invested in attacking anything that smacked of adopting Judeo-Christian morality, and I helped all the stoners cheat through every quiz. You must have known, and let me get away with it. I wasn’t that slick.
So here’s my belated apology:
I’m sorry. You did right by us. It was the late 1980s. The nation was in shock at the scale of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and in our Southern New England town where social conservatism lacked any political foothold, that was enough to make the school system level with the kids. We got a lot of real information: what all the STIs were and how they were transmitted, what infection rates looked like, all the birth control and STI-prevention methods, what they would do and how effectively. We even got that video with Rae Dawn Chong explaining anal sex, telling us that the anus was tighter and drier and required external lube as well as a condom. Wow! (It helped that, at 16, I thought Rae Dawn Chong was really hot.)
I can imagine a better program, of course. In fact, I did. I told you (in the way only self-righteous sixteen year olds can) how to make the program better. There are better programs at many universities. But what I didn’t understand at sixteen was that the education we got was as good a public school program as we could find then, better than anything the generation before got, and as I am reminded almost daily by younger readers on Feministing, almost immesurably better than what the kids get now that the religious conservatives have had a generation to pressure the schools.
I don’t remember and maybe couldn’t tell if you were behind the comprehensive curriculum or cringed at it, but you taught it and you tried to get us to listen — even the stoners, who I should have let sink or swim on those quizzes because they needed the information more than I did.
A generation later, I’m sorry for all the fuss. I was young. I didn’t understand.