This I Believe

Julie - Cazenovia, New York
Entered on August 8, 2007

One has to love a good controversy from time to time for the opportunity it provides to do an inventory of her own personal system of beliefs. It’s like housekeeping for the soul, or an oil change for our brains. And with the way that our media operates anyone who also believed this would think that we are a citizenry of stable-minded self-aware individuals. I was doing a little maintenance on my own value system after listening to a debate about this year’s Newbery Award winning children’s book. I believe that authors should use words like “scrotum.” And not only authors, and not only scrotum, but penis and vagina. These words, as well as other anatomical labels may have the power to push us in the direction of becoming more honest people.

As a second grade teacher in a public school one of the things that I cherish the most is the honesty of children. They’ll tell you that their parents will not read to them, or about the night that their dad had too many beers, or that they stayed up late to watch an “R” rated movie, and that if they could give their mom anything in the world for Mother’s Day, it would be a new “girl shaver” so that she doesn’t get cuts on her legs.

Just last week I was sitting with a student about to assess her reading ability. I handed her a book and she looked up at me with a serious look on her face and said, “You know grown-ups that are girls have boobies, and kids that are girls have nipples.” I commented that she offered interesting information and I asked where she learned of it. “On the bus . . .,” she replied and set about to reading the book that I had handed her. I was immediately brought back to my earlier quandary regarding the need to speak more honestly about the things we as humans wonder about. Imagine what it might be like for people if they could speak openly about the various body parts that are inextricably woven to many of their emotional, social, and physical concerns. Imagine if this honesty carried beyond the things that we think about ourselves, and inspired one to speak openly about the things that they think about others. My young students know many names used to name their body parts, and they have inclinations about their functions. They also know that some people are gay, have different skin color, or different physical appearances, and that houses can look very different from one another. It seems that as kids grow older they still wonder about many of the same things that we are often too polite to be honest about. The problem is that the bus eventually ceases to exist to explain human phenomena, leaving children to carry the weight of their questions on their own. We fail children when we do not reciprocate the honesty that they afford us.