Can You Imagine Middle Schoolers Tackling Mature Subject Matter?

February 20, 2008

*UPDATE* Unrelated to the following italicized hissy fit, we have been reinvited to the literary festival to do a panel on blogging and self-publishing for middle schoolers, perhaps featuring some of our less incendiary CISWY stories.

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Apologies as always for the lack of posting. The reason is not lack of stories; we've several in the chute (and still we crave more...).

No. We've not posted anything because it took me a while to get over the shock and disappointment from a recent CISWY turn of events: we were asked to do a panel at a local middle school's literary festival, and then -- once said festival's organizer actually read the book -- disinvited due to CISWY's "mature" subject matter.

Am I really that naive, in thinking that the organizer overreacted, made a huge mistake, or at least an unnecessary and pre-emptive concession? CISWY is about the things that actually happened to us in grade and middle school, and how we actually felt at the time. Parents might like to imagine that their grade- and middle school children ponder nothing but fluffy unicorn manes, enrolling at Hogwarts, and scoring winning soccer goals, but IT IS NOT TRUE. And these kids need to know that other people, other kids feel the same way, and that they are neither warped nor alone.

Here are a few of the things I did as a relatively sheltered, somewhat dutiful Catholic girl from a well-adjusted suburban family, two full years before I went into middle school. First read, and then consider: Do you think it would have been a good idea, possibly even therapeutic and healthy, for me to feel comfortable talking about mature themes with adults and other peers?



Years Before I Was Allowed to See R-Rated Movies
by S. D. Rosa
Age Ten at the Time

I spent fifth grade in a segregated geek/G.A.T.E. class on a regular elementary school campus. We were quite sheltered compared to our "regular" campus peers, which meant that our complete obsession with anything naughty had limited information feed lines. My friends Mike, Miho, and I had to bounce everything off each other.

Like everyone else in our class of clearly demarcated dorks, were given lots of self-directed free time with which to develop our supposedly impressive intellects. This means we were forever dicking around, telling proto-L33T Dolly Parton jokes that ended with the victim spelling "80087355" on their calculator, making cartoons and comic strips, and modifying the lyrics of every song we learned to see who could come up with the filthiest result. In the interests of propriety, I will not reproduce our efforts here, but please know that there is a reason I smirk every time I hear the lovely Quaker ditty Simple Gifts.

One song had, however, been pre-altered for us. Somehow, we came into possession of the following lyrics for that classic dance hall tune, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay:

Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay
I met a boy one day
He gave me fifty cents
To go behind the fence

He pulled my panties down
Then pushed me to the ground
He counted 1-2-3
Then stuck it into me

My mother was surprised
To see my belly rise
My father jumped for joy
It was a baby boy!

Every ten-year-old we knew, and even those we only knew of, could sing this lovely celebration of rape and teen pregnancy. It quickly became one of our standards.

Mike, Miho, and I decided that, given our considerable free time, we should give the song a comic strip counterpart. We named the protagonist Selena, made her a teenage prostitute, and set about illustrating her adventures. She was insatiable, our Selena. Mostly she would meet a man and then discreetly walk out of a frame, but there were times when her hunger demanded something more substantial, such as the planet Saturn. I can only imagine what my parents would have thought had they had seen these still very childish drawings, which contained no penises (ew!) or indeed anything more graphic than a long shot of Saturn going up Selena's skirt between two verrrrry widely spread legs.

This may sound horrifying, but I don't really think it is. We were not actually interested in the sexual aspects of our songs or cartoons, only in the thrill of dabbling in such absolutely forbidden themes. (Oh, and cursing a LOT. That was a thrill, too.)

I myself was so completely clueless about sexuality and sex -- I knew that a man could put his penis in a woman's vagina, but not one jot else -- that I didn't realize the reason I liked climbing the two-story firefighter-style pole on the jungle gym was because every time I did it, I had an orgasm. (Who had ever heard of orgasms?) I even tried to talk to Miho about it: "When I climb that pole, my butt itches. Does that ever happen to you?" Miho said no, as she preferred to stay on the ground and play soccer, but she did ask her mom, who said that she sometimes got an itchy butt at high altitudes. Since her mother only spoke Japanese, I am guessing something got lost in translation, both coming and going. I couldn't get up the nerve to ask my own mom, because we were Catholics, and if something happy came out of wrapping (not even rubbing) my legs around that pole and climbing, then it had to be bad.

My friends and I were both naive and innocent. We spent recess playing games like Statue Maker and soccer. I was fond of using my transparent red visor cap to catch the bees that gathered pollen from our playground's clover. The three of us liked to suck nectar from the honeysuckles growing along the playground fence. We were neither warped nor damaged, nor were we exposed to "bad influences." We were simply curious fifth grade children with both too much and too little information.

6 comments:

Those parents are really naive if they think their kids aren't thinking these things. I was a substitute teacher and learned more about sex from fourth graders than I did from my own peers in high school. When I was pregnant, I would usually collect a crowd of 8th grade pregnant girls around me who wanted to chit chat about the discomforts of pregancy.

My elementary school had a piece of equipment on the playground that was four slanted poles meeting at the top. That thing was always the hottest item going for the girls and the boys never used it. Can you imagine what the teachers were thinking as the whole class of girls were fighting over who got to climb the poles?

Carrie said...
20/2/08 5:23 AM  

I was as good a Catholic schoolgirl as you could hope for - wasn't going to have sex before marriage, had never even had a boyfriend until I was 16... and I used to spend nights in a teen sex chat room online, having all the cybersex I could. It was, for me, a totally safe way to explore my sexual preferences in a way that I had ultimate control over. (Didn't like someone? Click ignore, close the window, and they're gone.) I'm sure my parents would be horrified to find out. Not sure if I was doing those things in middle school or slightly later, but I consider myself a late bloomer. Point is, I agree 100% - exposure to mature themes isn't going to hurt kids. If anything, it may make them smarter about those issues when they eventually do arise in their own lives, whatever age that may be.

Anonymous said...
20/2/08 8:46 AM  

I'm sorry to hear that CISWY was "disinvited" to the panel. It sounds like the community was deprived of a valuable resource. To be honest, I'm a little hazy about what kind of sexuality I was exploring in middle school-- I vaguely remember uncomfortable kisses and being touched in ways that seemed unpleasant, but perhaps that's why I waited as long as I did to delve further into the world of sex. However, misinformation is a dangerous thing, and bringing in responsible adults to discuss in a mature manner things that today's youth are already talking about seems like a prudent move.

Miss Debater said...
20/2/08 11:15 AM  

That is so totally bogus (not your story, but the panel hosts' balking). A middle school?!? Look, I was a librarian at a not-particularly-progressive school for almost a decade, and no way would I have hesitated for a hot minute to add CISWY to our middle school collection on "mature content" grounds.

Sure, individual parents make individual decisions, and schools in general end up being relatively conservative and catering to the lowest common denominator. I can understand why an elementary school might balk at a school-wide presentation featuring some of the more raw (raw-er?) content (though lots of elementary kids--popular and unpopular--would totally connect with, and need to hear, the stories in this book and stories like them), but a middle school?

The content--sex, hard truths, cynicism and all--of CISWY is the life-blood of what middle-school kids are grappling with, and *need* to be grappling with, developmentally. Schools that deny that truth are doing their students a disservice, educationally as well as socially.

/soapbox. But feel free to quote me.

elswhere said...
20/2/08 11:21 AM  

All, I just wrote about this instance on Shaping Youth, where we cover media and marketing's impact on kids, and I'd love to hear more on the specifics.

My take on it is that some schools are so risk-averse in the liability department due to litigious 'outrage' it's not worth the district wrath and compromised funding fiascos and such...

We deal with 'counter-marketing' cues a lot in schools, and some of our programs are definitely on the edgier side in terms of kids coming up with 'user generated content' that could easily make admin wince, since we're deconstructing media messages in the mainstream...(think "Dove Onslaught" meets "Axe" with an attitude)

That said, it's like the Sex Tech conference recently run by ISIS, to glean ideas about better sex ed content in schools...(I wrote about it here on Shaping Youth:
http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=997)

The schools themselves may not be able to 'sanction or produce the event' but OTHER orgs can and SHOULD to get the info out there and in the hands of the powers that be.

Why not create a multi-sponsored 'event' about bullying or relational aggression and bring in sponsors from all walks of life?

Bring in nonprofits like Shaping Youth, the Preteen Alliance (Lucille Packard's Children's Hospital) Kaiser/wellness programs, cyberbullying tech experts, special needs alliances, Bay Area Parent mag, child psychologist experts, Advocates for Youth, Girls For A Change, Boys/Girls Clubs, etc. and CHARGE for the event to make some bucks for SEPTAR?

I'm in! (And local/on the peninsula too!) It's a worthy topic that needs open, candid dialogue...(see our series on bullying this week, your book is part three of our series on Shaping Youth, here: http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=1150

Good luck...keep me posted...

Shaping Youth said...
20/2/08 1:12 PM  

What a great story! I was just thinking of naughty elementary school songs the other day, and how often they have violence and death in them -- which makes adults just as uncomfortable as sex, sometimes, to hear us lisping away about how Miss Susie fell and died.

Liz said...
21/2/08 8:37 AM  

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