“Sex is NOT a bad word”… I shouted this… in my classroom… to 6, 7 and 8 year old students…. everyone froze, but only for a flash. So, I had to shout it again, with just a bit more volume and conviction.
Moments earlier a concerned child told me that a classmate found a bad word in one of our library corner books. ‘Oh, my!’, I said… and I went to take a look. Being unable to find the word myself (or the book), I instead, found the finder. They were not going to talk and would not utter the word found, but they did point to a book that was a class favorite. It was one of our heaviest hardback books, about 12″ x 18” and over an inch thick… a child’s encyclopedia of animals. It really is a beautiful book, full of colorful, realistic drawings and photographs of all animals from amoebas to humans… it has tons of interesting facts and quite a few scientific words. My students pour over its pages, showing interesting pictures to friends. It would not be uncommon for three or four students to be gathered around this book oooooing and aaahing for a whole reading period. I grabbed the offending book.
A buzz was in the classroom, because everyone knew that our class favorite had a bad word in it, most of them had been shown the word, and the book may be put away behind the teacher’s desk (a veritable black hole of confiscated crap and stacks of books and papers) never to be seen again.
Here is how this went:
“What was the bad word”
“I don’t remember”
“You do, what was it?”
“I am not going to say it.”
“You can tell me, what was it?”
“It is a bad word, I am not allowed to say it.”
“It is okay to tell the teacher, you can tell me the word. You are not in trouble.”
“My mom said I am not allowed.”
“Okay, let’s find it in the book and you can show me.”
At this point he turns to an easily found page towards the beginning of the book (he had obviously become an expert at finding it from showing the rest of Room One the offending word). It was the page on protozoans, sponges, or maybe some other basic sea creature and had a beautiful diagram of one such animal, labeled with all of it’s parts… Right there at the bottom of the page was the word, with a line connecting it to a blob inside the organism… SEX cell… There it was.
Okay… here’s what happened next…
“Ah, I see. That is not a bad word. You CAN read me that word.”
“No, I can’t. My mom said it is a bad word and I am never allowed to say it.”
“But you can show it to everyone in class? Hmmmmm. I think you can read that word to me, because this is a science book in our classroom and I am asking you to read it. You can do that.”
…. we sat in silence for a long time… My student was set on not reading the word, I read it, I explained what that word meant in the book, and finally, in frustration, I shouted out “Sex is not a bad word” – twice… And then “Everybody stop what you are doing and meet me on the rug! Now!”
Quick as a wink, there they all were, staring at me as I held up the offending book. We had a big discussion about what that word meant in that context… That humans are born to be either the male sex or the female sex, we all have a sex, and also sex is the word we use for how animals reproduce… then we talked more broadly about words and how many words can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on how you use them and who you are speaking to. Words like stupid, hate, ugly, pig, rat and more can be used in a good way or a bad way… It was a deep lesson for young children, but our favorite book was back on the shelf and we have not had a ‘bad word’ incident in a while… No shit. 😉