Wednesday, September 17, 2008


When parents tell me their oldest child is going to be in middle school, I sense they have mixed feelings. They’re proud but worried. They’re worried about their children’s loss of innocence. No parent can put that off forever, of course, but they shouldn’t have to worry about it when their kids are only eleven. When it’s parents against the culture, I hate to admit it but the culture is likely to win. Parents know this at some level and fear it.

Students are more sexual these days than I ever remember. I shouldn’t be surprised given the escalating sexualization of the entire culture in which we all live. Our children grow up permeated by sex on the television they watch, in the music they listen to, in the literature they read, and in the advertising they’re continually bombarded with from all angles every single day. So of course I’m going to see it more in class, and it can be awkward at times.

On the first day of school I passed out textbooks, just as I’ve done for decades. I have to record what number book each student gets, so I call their names one at time and they tell me what it is. In four out of five classes, at least one student said he or she had textbook number 69. Each time, there were knowing looks and snorts by other students, mostly boys but not exclusively. There should only be one book numbered 69 in the whole batch of course, but at least three students last year had changed the number in the book they were assigned. I had to decide in an instant if I was going to confront the sniggling behavior or let it pass. The first time, I ignored it. I recorded the 69 in my computer and called the next student’s name. When it happened again in the second class, I realized that at least one of the books had been altered and I had to ask myself how would I deal with it. To do so in the moment would call more attention to it. Considering that there may still be many students who didn’t know what sexual connotations the number 69 has, I hesitated. My attention to the matter would cause them to ask questions and find out. Maybe I’m naive to assume they’re unworldly, but I hope not. I wanted to believe most of them - maybe only some at this point - are still innocent enough at thirteen or fourteen to not understand why the boys were snickering. So, I ignored it the second time, but I was disturbed. This was the first day of school. I’ve been teaching a long time and it didn’t use to be this way. I ignored it in the third and fourth classes too and tried to put it out of my mind by filing it in the mental folder I call “another depressing sign of the times.”

Last fall, nearby Portland’s school board gave King Middle School permission to prescribe birth control to students as young as eleven. Last spring, the Centers For Disease Control reported that 1 in 4 teenage girls in America ages 14-19 has a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). I remember how sad I was reading that. I remember mentioning it to a group of teachers the same day and getting no response. It made me feel like a dinosaur. I’m not the oldest teacher in the district, but I’ve been here the longest. Sometimes I feel like yelling to students and teachers that it didn’t use to be this way, but what good would it do? It’s the way things are now and I guess it has to continue trending like this until a critical mass in the wider culture out there says, “Enough!”

I hope I’m still around when it happens.


Anonymous said...

dear tom,I find this artical quite intregining, it speaks the truth and really just called to me. because I totaly agree. I love your writing.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Thank you for the kind words.

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Anonymous said...

I wouldl like very much to be added to your email list, my email is

Tom McLaughlin said...

It's done.

Anonymous said...

Tom, this article has been quite thought over, and you are a great writer. I enjoy reading your pieces and will continue to read them, as i agree on most of your views.