Saturday, May 20, 2006

Flashback to High School Health

Writing recently about my required high school classes reminded me of the experience that was "Health" in high school. It was a required class, and as I mentioned, there were no "advanced" or honors classes which substituted for it, so I was back amongst the general population of my high school my senior year, and it was an eye-opening experience. And yes, it's not current, but I felt like sharing anyway.

On the first day, my health teacher (also the cheerleading coach) was giving an overview of all the different topics we would be discussing that semester. She started talking about studying the different systems of the body, like the skeletal and muscular systems, and (apparently as segue) asked, "And how do we move our muscles?" Now I had just finished honors biology II the previous year, and aced the AP test, so I remember that I started thinking: "Let's see... there's a sodium and potassium ion exchange, and there's a ratcheting action in the fibers... gosh, I can't quite remember this... wait, is this completely understood? I guess this class is going to be harder than I thought." I'm so dissapointed that I didn't remember enough details to rattle off a quick answer to an (admittedly) hard question, because when no one answered how we moved our muscles, the teacher finished up with: "We EXERCISE them!" At which point I relaxed and thought, "OK, so this will be cake after all."

Which is pretty much the conclusion my health teacher came to after about a week or two, when she drew me and one other student aside after class and basically told us the class wouldn't be challenging for us, and she was sorry, but if we wanted to assume we would have lots of free time during class and bring other things to work on or read, that was fine. But, as she put it, there wasn't much she could do to make the class much more interesting, because she also had to deal with students in the class who couldn't even read. (This is high school, remember?) And mostly it was a fairly boring class, which covered the basics, including the lessons on staying healthy by exercising and eating healthy foods, and the obligatory "Drugs are bad, m'kay" lesson.

But then there was the sex ed unit, which was a lot of fun. For me, anyway. Mostly because our teacher couldn't bring herself to say the word "sex" out loud. (Once she had to bring up the topic, so she hurriedly wrote it on the board, then quickly erased it again.) I was pretty well-versed in the area actually, which is mostly attributable to being both an intellectual bookworm and a horny teenager at the same time: I read everything I could find. By the time I went into the class, I knew quite a bit about the biology, sociology, and psychology relating to sex. (And I had a fair idea which bits I'd like to try out, for that matter. And a long list of guys I'd like to try them with, but I wouldn't have told anyone either of those at that point.)

We saw a fair number of videos during that unit, because the teacher could start a film, turn out the lights, and hide in the back of the room. (Actually, this was frequently a pretty good idea, since a lot of our sex education ended up coming from PBS or Surgeon General Koop, which tended to be pretty good.) But I even managed to ruin a film for her once. When she showed "The Miracle of Life" (which was good, but dated), another student asked "Is this really inside somebody?", to which she answered no. When I explained that the film was controversial exactly because these shots we were seeing were real (and done using laproscopic cameras), she was mortified and actually started hiding her face in her hands on the desk. (Come to think of it, I probably shouldn't have said anything. She probably never showed that film again.)

One day a discussion broke out among the students about things stuck up people's butts, including comments about gay men "gerbiling". I brought in a Cecil Adams column the next day to read to the class in which he concluded that this was an urban legend, because a lengthy review of medical literature couldn't turn up a case. Interviews with nurses or emergency room personnel who claimed to have seen cases also ended up just going in circles and never coming down to an identifiable case. The column did however include a lengthy list of items mentioned in medical literature that had been removed from peoples rectums, including light bulbs, a plantain in a condom, and 72 jewelers saws (!). (These are the items which still stick with me; the full list was several paragraphs long.) While she let me read the article to the class, she also said afterwards that it would be the end of any further discussions of anything in anyone's rectum. (Actually she didn't say anything nearly that explicit of course.)

The time I wish I had read out loud to the class was when we covered birth control. Our teacher passed out a mimeographed table of different birth control methods to the class, including where to get them, how to use them, and what the benefits and drawbacks of each were. She said she wasn't going to read any of this out loud, and that no one else obviously wanted to, so we were to just read each row of the table silently to ourselves. So we spent a little time where she would say "Now read row three," and wait for a while. Then she took all the sheets back up, so we wouldn't go showing people what we talked about in health class. (And of course I can't help but think back to what she said at the beginning of the class about having students who couldn't even read.) I came within a hairsbreadth of volunteering when she said "no one else wants to read it either" and starting in on the table, but I didn't. I really wish I had, particularly since there were probably some people in there who needed the information and couldn't get it from reading the table. Plus, I bet I could have made my teacher climb under the desk.

No comments: