Victoria Jackson (yes, that Victoria Jackson: She is a conservative blogger now) has a lengthy post titled “Sex and Lies in Current TN School Textbooks.” It is well worth reading in its entirety, though the reader is strongly advised to have a good supply of Zantac on hand before undertaking the post.
A central point that Jackson makes toward the beginning is that an appallingly low 39% of textbooks on the approved state list were found by independent reviewers to be acceptable for classroom use. Among the proposed texts, reviewers found “a mind-numbing degree of indoctrination” and images and diagrams of a sexual nature that were deemed “inappropriate.”
To put this last criticism in some perspective, Jackson focuses on a book titled “It’s Perfectly Normal” found on the fourth-grade reading list. She provides photos of some of the cartoonlike illustrations from the book that are so grotesque that a description of the content suffices. One shows a male child applying a condom, a “skill” one can only hope most Tennessee 9-year-olds aren’t yet in need of. Another, labeled “Different Types of Naked Bodies,” is made more horrific by the fact that the cartoon models are adults (with fully developed breasts, in the case of women). Yet another shows a male child naked from the waist down, sitting on a bed and masturbating.
The subtitle of the book, first released in 2009, is “Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health.” Here is how the book’s author Robie H. Harris explains its genesis:
IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL began one day when I was sitting in an editor’s office. He asked me if I would like to write a book on HIV and AIDS for elementary school age children. I had never intended to write a book on this topic, but I had an immediate response. I told the editor that if I were to write a book on the topic, I would write a comprehensive book on sexual health that, of course, would include HIV and AIDS. I told him that kids and teens did need to know about the virus, but that they also needed to know a lot of other things about their changing bodies, growing up, sex, and sexual health in order to stay healthy. That night at supper, I told my family about my idea for this book and asked my husband and children what should be in a book on sexual health for kids 10 and up. My children were in high school at the time. And that started my research, which continued over the five years it took to complete this book.
That evening I called several of my children’s elementary school teachers (including their science teacher), librarians, several pediatricians I knew, people in the field of reproductive health, and parents who were friends. Over the next few weeks, I met with each of them and I asked them the same question I asked my family: “What should be in a book for kids and teens on sexual health?” Again, their thoughts and expertise were invaluable. While writing the book, I went back to these people over and over again, to make sure my facts were accurate and up-to-date and that the text was age-appropriate….
According to the cover, age-appropriate is defined as “for ages 10 and up.” That means Tennessee has jumped the gun in assigning it to 9-year-olds, but not by that much.
Here is a sample text passage from Chapter 4, “Making Love: Sexual Intercourse.” You can decide for yourself if it is appropriate reading for a 10-year-old:
Sexual intercourse happens when a female and a male feel very sexy and very attracted to each other. They want to be very close to each other in a sexual way, so close that the male’s penis goes inside the female’s vagina. The vagina stretches open in a way that fits around the penis.
When this happens, it is possible for a female and a male — once their reproductive organs have grown up — to make a baby.
But most people don’t have sexual intercourse only when they want to make a baby. Most often, they have to sexual intercourse because it feels good.
The next page provides a bulleted list of “things about sex and sexual intercourse that are important to know and remember.” The first is:
It makes sense to wait to have sexual intercourse until you are old enough and responsible enough to make healthy decisions about sex.
But then why tell kids about any of this now, when they are 10? And why tell them at all after enticing them by pointing out that sexual intercourse feels good? Finally, what constitutes “healthy decisions about sex” and how do you know when you “are old enough and responsible enough” to make those decisions?
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