In Salina, Kansas — pop. 47,707 — a controversy has arisen over a middle school leadership retreat. A local TV station reports:
Concerned mother Rachel Hinde-Constantino says girls told her no questions were off limits at the retreat, and she had no idea when she signed the consent form that the conversation would take a turn in which she did not approve.
She says the program is intended to help middle-school girls to be able to ask questions about themselves and to understand things like their body image and to be able to have healthy discussions about that, as well as nutrition. The conversation went beyond what was appropriate for middle-school aged students, Hinde-Constantino says.
“There were comments ranging from oral sex, anal sex, comments about masturbation, and it’s okay to have sex on the first date (and) it’s okay to have multiple sex partners,” she says. “There was even a comment about taking nude selfies and things that we feel are absolutely intolerable when we did not consent to it.”
Hinde-Constantino says the remarks happened in a couple small group discussion during a panel called ‘Respecting our Sexual Selves.”
She says the topics were brought on by one or two people who felt the need to share information beyond what their children expected to discuss. She says juniors and seniors in high school served as the panelists, but there was adult supervision.
Many — but by no means all — of the parents are saying “What’s the big deal?” One named Megan Yoder commented (mistakes in the original; I’m not hiding names because it’s taken from a TV station’s public Facebook page):
As a middle school teacher, I am PERFECTLY ok with what the teacher covered. I once heard two girls talking at lunch… “if you eat pop rocks and drink orange soda, you can’t get pregnant.” [smiley face]
Whether we want to face it or not students are highly engaged in sexual content, whether they are doing it or talking about. As a parent, wouldn’t you want them to be able to ask questions from an educated person versus lunch table “expert”?
I can remember sex Ed that we received a freshman … it covered puberty again … this is not what we needed to learn. We should have learned the facts about sex, STDs, etc. Believe it or not some people still believe that a woman can’t get pregnant if she’s on top.
To which Rachel Hinde-Constantino, one of the complaining parents, replied to this middle school teacher (again, I reproduce it as it appears on the page):
Megan Yoder If you’re comfortable with telling 12 and 13 year old girls to lie, possibly commit crimes by suggesting nude photos are okay to take and send when you’re under the legal age, and how to put a condom on using your mouth, then this retreat was for you! Lol.
Hinde-Constantino then reproduced the permission slip the school sent home to parents:
Good for Rachel Hinde-Constantino. If my daughter had to sit there and listen to older teenage skanks groom these 12 and 13 year olds with this filth, while adults stood by and facilitated it, I would have raised the roof at the school board.
On the other hand, let’s consider that the parents and teachers who cheer for this stuff are teaching the rest of us a valuable lesson. I have no doubt that many of the kids in middle school in Salina, and everywhere else, are immersed in this stink via the Internet, social media, and the rest. It might well be the case that parents who are shocked that this is toxic water in which their young sons and daughters swim will use this episode to face some hard truths about our culture, and about their responsibilities as parents.
In which case I invite them to watch this PBS Frontline episode from 18 years ago. We lost the culture a long time ago. There is no geographical escape from it. If it’s happening in Salina…
A reader who lives in the Salina area, and who brought this story to my attention, remarks:
The amazing thing about the comments from parents is that they seem to overwhelmingly justify the school’s blunder because: they are trying and others are not and it is better than what the already sexually active students are learning on the internet and in the hallways and locked rooms.
If this is not a malformative environment for Christians to put their kids in, what is? It is a hell of a lot more exciting than church and therefore a hell of a lot more influential.
Will the true confessions of these parents regarding the near universal sexual activity of middle schoolers move any Christian parents to choose a different education?
Some of them, maybe. I hope also it motivates creative thinking by all serious Christians about how to combat this decadence — including creating scholarship programs to help active members of the congregation who can’t afford Christian school tuition pay the bills for it. But look: don’t think Christian schools are the complete solution. Everything depends on the ethos in particular schools. Still, we have to start somewhere.
UPDATE: A reader e-mails:
But if a parent permitted Harvey Weinstein to say the same things to their middle school daughters it would be considered child abuse. I wish they would give us the rules on what constitutes “a hostile environment.” Funny how that works.
UPDATE.2: Another reader e-mails:
I think the pro-sex ed, this-is-not-a-big-deal people have a point. Why complain about this when your kid hears worse in the hallway and the locker room? They are calling the conservative parents out for believing their kids are still in a bubble in Salina, KS.
UPDATE.3: Reader Randolph:
I teach religion to parochial school teenagers. Once a week I let them ask anything as long as it touches on theology or scripture. Free for all. All the subjects in the OP come up, repeatedly. They didn’t know anal sex was harmful. Why is homosexual marriage wrong? Transgenderism, dating, sexting. Interesting that pornography never comes up, but if I bring it up in the course of these discussions the boys squirm. I try my best to give them a clear Christian view of the body and sexuality. A healthy view male and female. I pull no punches. No one is talking to them about this from a Christian viewpoint except the don’ts, and even there they do not have much guidance. I would not be as blunt with junior high students, but I wouldn’t shy away from answering honest questions. You may not like the answers the Kansas folks gave but I guarantee you if this is at the top of the list of discussions at a fairly sheltered parochial school, it’s being talked about and even experimented with in the general student population even at the Jr. High level. My students repeatedly ask these questions because though they hear me answer the questions, the culture, their friends, the Internet is screaming at them 24/7 the other messages on gender, sexuality, etc… and their hormones are nodding in agreement. It’s much worse out their for our kids than most adults think.
For the record, I strongly disagree with the idea that silence, or otherwise ignoring the situation, is an acceptable strategy for Christian or other socially conservative parents.
Matt in VA writes:
Let me try to carefully distinguish between two things here:
1) A pornified sexual culture that encourages 12 and 13 year olds to be cavalier about sex and sexual choices and that pretends “it’s OK to ask questions” is the same thing as “it’s OK to start having sex with whoever wants to hook up with you, if you want to hook up with them” is bad — it really is bad;
B) there really is an element or air of “We do not talk about these things, and that’s that” to a lot of social conservative types which really is, really truly is, rather obviously blind to what their kids are actually experiencing on the school bus, in the school cafeteria, etc. And yes, I know your solution to that problem is “just home school” but there is a significant amount of privilege in that kind of proffered “easy fix.”
I will say that I am inclined to agree that it would be better if schools and “sex educators” or whatever did *nothing* compared to what they so often actually do. Indeed, I would say that I think the vast majority of anybody in the field of “sex education” probably is someone you should want to keep your kids as far away from as possible.
But it really is true that nobody likes a prude. I don’t know. I know you feel that this is just too blandly pejorative on my part. But there is a reason that you can go back to the Decameron and see the same phenomenon, or go back to Shakespeare. People just do not like prudes. Yes, I know that we have the Victorians as an example, and I *love* the Victorians — I love Dickens more than God (I really do, it’s sinful and I will probably suffer for it when I die. This probably sounds like ridiculous gay theatricality but I mean it! I mean, I’m a miserable sinner in a lot of ways but I think that’s one of them) and the Victorians are culturally closer to us than, say, Shakespeare or Boccaccio — but I am going to stick by what I say. Even the Victorians found ways of having their fun — and of course the Victorians produced, ultimately, the most famous gay person to ever live, who was arguably the most famous person of the last decade of the Victorian era. So there’s that.
I guess I just feel like a response to this that boils down to “Shock! It’s happening in Salina?!? Shock!” is just…. I mean, come on. I’m tempted to say that the better approach to this is more the one in Brideshead Revisited. Basically, that we live in a fallen world and we don’t expect any better of the rather silly and predictable people who organize these kinds of things, but we’ve seen grander, more impressive, more beautiful and tragic and hopeful and simply LARGER (God-size) things in our universe, and why is time being wasted on this? Who are these *sniff* people? That is, the better approach is not “I’m *shocked*!” but rather “These people are banal and old hat.” I’m tempted to say, you have to “cultivate” more of an air of superiority, and less of an air of shock… but I use the word “cultivate” in the agricultural sense, you have to grow* something bigger, not in the fake or phony or theatrical sense — because someone with, say, a Catholic view of sexuality really does have a bigger and more beautiful view.
*I’m not saying you have to create it, it already exists, but you do have to grow it, with all the work that entails — fertilizing the soil, weeding, watering, pest control etc.
Maybe another way of saying what I’m trying to say is that social conservatism still reflexively tries to use the tactics of the bourgeois. That is over. Sexual liberalism is bourgeois now. Yes, even in Salina. Being Bohemian, as opposed to bourgeois, means that you cannot fall back on “this just isn’t *done*” and indeed your only position of strength is to say instead, “Yawn, you are boring and tedious and shallow and, quite frankly, dull. I care about something, I care about trying to realize something beautiful, and tremendous – – and I’m willing to live in such a way that if I die for it, so be it.” There’s a line in Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind about how the ’60s radicals were wrong — there has long been a place for those who will not accept the mores and prejudices of the moment, those who feel they must live for something else, something that they think is greater (i.e. art, usually) — Bohemia was what it was called — but in the past (pre-60s) it was understand that rejecting the mores and prejudices (the smelly little orthodoxies) of the current cultural moment meant (and people understood that it meant) poverty, meant leaving the connections of family and community of birth behind, meant (possibly) consumption. That is, you couldn’t opt for it and at the same time expect middle-class comforts. Well, it is a kind of, not comfort, but middle-class marker to think that people will react to your shock or displeasure at what they do with anything other than, “Oh, you don’t like it? Well, f*** off.” If you want to reject the bourgeois meanness of your current cultural moment, you had better have something beautiful to offer, or at the least you had better be willing to suffer to try for something beautiful, and indeed you had better, when you address the world at large, *lead* with that something beautiful. (This is the most important part of my point.) You may not like it, but you’re bohemians now.
OK, but just so you know, I’m not the one shocked by this. That’s why I changed the subhed here. I keep having to bang the drum because so many of my fellow conservative Christians want to think that it’s not happening where they live (and, notably, that if they give their own little ones smart phones, that they won’t be the ones surfing for porn).