A few days ago at San Diego’s Woodland Middle School, in health class, 8th grade students were asked to stand under signs that indicated how far they would go sexually when they started dating. The signs read variously “Hugging,” “Kissing,” “Above the Waist”, “Below the Waist,” and “All the Way.”
So, here you are in 8th grade, at a notoriously awkward age, not yet dating, and you are to tell the entire class (and via rumor, the entire school!) how you might behave sexually in the future! This artful little game was something the “innovative” principal, Brian Randall, found in a community clinic, which was his defense in using it. (Randall’s logic: It comes from a community clinic; all things from a community clinic are educationally valuable; since this comes from a community clinic, it must be educationally valuable.) This exercise was billed as a way for parent-child communications to be opened up. How exactly that might happen was left unexplained.
And more to the point, how does this school arrogate to itself the right to ask questions proper only within the family (and most decidedly not in front of other students and staff!) or between a licensed therapist and his or her client?
I should like the school to put up signs for principals like Brian Randall to stand under (“I found this one at a community clinic, so it must be good”). Here are the signs: “I have not yet committed adultery, but I’m thinking about it,” “I have committed adultery, but regret it,” “I have committed adultery and enjoyed it,” and “Fidelity in marriage should be optional.” This little game of mine, by the way, is “to open up communications between husband and wife.”
Just imagine this game: all the teachers are there, their spouses, the janitors even, perhaps a reporter or two (our rumor mill). And you must stand under one of the signs before the curious gaze of everyone present. Now it’s only a guess, mind you, but I think there might be one or two who would balk at playing this game, with privacy being the reason given.
Such “New Age” educational material is one reason why our school system is so poor; why we test almost last in comparison with other nations, developing and developed; why the media now broadcasts on a 5th grade level (news broadcasters, unfortunately, seem hardly better educated than that themselves!); and why we now see the dumbest productions on TV and in the movies.
Woodland’s descent into voyeuristic games in health class must surely be an indicator of the school’s overall intellectual quality. Do they teach Latin or Greek there, or French or German? I would be very surprised if they did. Can the students read good books (“Classics”) with both edification and enjoyment? Can they write well? Do they know how to diagram a sentence? How well prepared are they for entering high school? If Brian Randall’s use of logic is itself any indication, the intellectual strength of the school is on the short side of rigor and excellence.
The hard work of learning Latin in middle school or high school is today mostly just a memory, and yet those few students today who do take Latin easily outscore their non-Latin peers on standardized tests. The time taken to learn Latin rather than time spent on embarrassing voyeuristic “games” would aid a student incalculably more.
But one thing you can bet on from Principal Brian Randall, the path that should be taken to improve his school will not be taken. Why not? Because in response to parental criticism, he simply turned defiant and refused to take their criticism seriously. In his mind there is no other truth than his own. But as Socrates taught us two and a half millennia ago, real education is the search for Truth (not a defense of one’s opinions), but this presupposes humility and openness, neither of which Randall appears to possess. Since a school’s educational philosophy is largely determined by its principal’s, one may assume from Brian Randall’s defiant close-mindedness that there is no great love of Truth at Woodland Middle School, and this would inevitably color what, and how, a school teaches.
Our American education system is broken. One way to judge this is to look at the effects of science on our views of the universe. And what do we find? Science for half the country has had little discernible effect. 46% of American adults believe that the universe is 10,000 years old or younger. This view is called Creationism, which also advocates that God created the universe, as well as the first humans ( Adam and Eve), in just 7 days! It’s as if no progress in science has been made in the last 3000 years! Intellectually, there are many in the United States who are still in the Dark Ages! One often reads a lament about how we are not training scientists today. With Creationism believed so widely, one can see why the sciences have taken a back seat to unreasoning belief. The Bible is not and was never meant to be a scientific handbook. It is a book about God’s sovereignty (Genesis, Exodus)—a “Who the final authority is and our relationship to Him” and not a detailing “How the universe was created,” which is and ever will be a complete mystery, all the present and future scientific advances notwithstanding.
This simple fact, however, is too scary for the average Creationist to believe. Their faith is not strong enough to hold the sacred cup of mystery, their narrow minds too desiccated for the rich luxuriance of metaphor and symbol. Mankind is homo symbolicus; the Creationist on the other hand is homo timidus. But where there is no courage, there can be no true or lasting knowledge. The search for Truth is not for the faint of heart. To be numbered among God’s true followers is an essay in courage—and an adventure not of the spirit only but also of the mind. Only those who courageously seek Truth truly live, truly embody the spirit of God. The fearful shall never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Woodland Middle School shows graphically how our education system is a failed enterprise. The reasons are many, however, and transcend easy criticism of Brian Randall. But he is surely part of the problem. He sets the school’s tone. In approving of a 14-year-old declaring publically what he or she would do sexually in the future is both pathologically voyeuristic, potentially psychologically harmful, inexpressibly inappropriate, as well as a bellwether of the continuing decline of the American education system.
Len Sive Jr.