At the end of March, Congress extended PREP (Personal Responsibility Education Program) for one more year; PREP is a program that provides a funding stream for sexual health education.  Unfortunately, it got passed as part of a compromise bill that also extended Title V AOUM (Abstinence Only Until Marriage) funding, AKA the “let’s just tell the kids not to have sex, and they’ll totally listen” program. 

The type of sex education that students receive in the US depends on the state they reside in; most states have a provision allowing parents to opt out of sex education for their children.  My own home state has a statute that says that “abstinence will be presented as the sure way (italics mine) to prevent pregnancy and STIs.”  Is that better or worse than being from the same place as Joe McCarthy and Jeffery Dahmer?  Not sure.

Colorado is the shit, though!  Check this out:
Creates the comprehensive human sexuality education grant program in the department of public health and environment. The purpose of the program is to provide funding to public schools and school districts to create and implement evidence based, medically accurate, culturally sensitive and age appropriate comprehensive human sexuality education programs. Creates the interagency “youth sexual health team,” to function as the oversight entity of the grant program.

Want to learn about your state’s sex education policies?  SIECUS just released its annual state profile report for sexuality education / abstinence education funding for FY 2012!  It is really comprehensive. 

*Wisconsin and Colorado state policy quotes retrieved from the National Conference of State Legislatures at http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx

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Well Played, Grasshopper

I talked to a former student on Skype recently; she was in my tenth grade English class my first year of teaching.  She had been through a really difficult breakup and needed to talk it through.  It was one of those breakups that happen again and again and again, where you keep having the same fight over and over but can’t quite let go.  After she got everything off her chest and got some validation, which it seemed she needed, she asked how I was doing.

“I also have emotional ebola,” I said.  I explained how I’ve recently fallen into an emotional vortex and have been trying in vain to navigate my way out.  How at first I was deliriously happy, but then a month in the pain started.  (By the way, did you know that when you allow yourself to feel things, you have to feel ALL THE THINGS?  Like, you can’t just pick and choose your feelings?)  Understanding this, she said to me:

“Well, you know – there’s a reason the word delirious is there!”

Touché.  That whole cliché about the student becoming the teacher.  We erupted into peals of laughter and I immediately felt better.  She had come to me for emotional relief and had given me relief that I didn’t even know I needed.       

Paying to Pass

A couple of weeks ago, I was unexpectedly called into the English department head’s office; I automatically felt as though I’d done something wrong.  Despite the fact that I’ve been working at this university for two months, this was my first time meeting him.  Here’s how our very first conversation went:

Dr. K: Oh, hello — nice to meet you.
Me: Nice to meet you, too!
Dr. K: I asked you to meet with me because there are three students in your conversation class who have not been coming.  Here are their names.
Me: Yes, I recognize them from the attendance sheet.
Dr. K: These students have jobs, so they cannot attend your class.  I need you to understand their situation and manage their attendance.
Me: Umm… manage?  Can you explain that more clearly?
Dr. K: Yes, well, these students have a job so they cannot come to class.  But they cannot… erm… You shouldn’t… erm…
Me: You’re telling me not to fail them.
Dr. K: You should understand their situation.
Me: So, I should give them D grades?
Dr. K: Well, um, you need to understand that they cannot –
Me: They haven’t stepped foot in my class once.
Dr. K: Yes, but our university helps to prepare students to find a job.  It is not easy.  These students have jobs, so please understand them and maybe a C is okay.
Me, with an are-you-fucking-kidding-me? look on my face: Sigh.  Different culture.
Dr. K: No, it is not the culture.  The enrollment at universities is very competitive these days. We cannot lose students. 
Me, teeth gritted: Oh, I understand
Dr. K: Thank you for your understanding. 

I went to the head teacher to discuss this with him; pretty standard, he said.  He’s a businessman, so from his point of view, this is the right thing to do; finding a job is most important thing for our students.  I’m an educator, so I’m struggling with this idea.  To me, education and learning are intrinsically valuable; furthermore, telling students that they don’t actually have to earn their grades not only devalues what we do as teachers, but also what every other student at the university is doing and the university itself. 

After talking to teachers at other universities, I found out that this is standard practice across the board!  University students in Korea: paying to pass.  And I mean, I get it.  Being a university student isn’t going to pay the bills.  But still.   

I told Dr. K later on that I strongly disagree with this practice, but I’ll do as he asks (if I don’t, he would just go into the system and change the grades himself).  Just like my students, I’d really like to keep my job.