This is a topic very dear to my heart. It is about education, but it is really not political. Maybe a bit idealistic, but not too much, I promise. There’s this thing that bothers me: In school, sometimes, I was taught things that were simply wrong. And not only once, but repeatedly. From time to time.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed school and while I see now that many of the things that I was taught were probably quite useless, I do see the merit of being taught what I was taught: Especially during the last two years, while I was doing the IB Diploma Programme, the skills I acquired were more central and more important than I could see at the time, while I was all focused on the specific content.
And I understand that sometimes we are taught simplified versions of the material, like middle school students who were taught the lock-and-key models (we’re talking biology, guys – enzymes), although the induced fit, which we were then taught a few years later,is the more widely recognised model these days. I am sure there is an even more complicated model that university students are then taught. This I am okay with (to a certain degree).
What I am not okay with is when topics very close to life are taught in a fashion that maybe relates back to the teacher’s disinterest or what it says in the textbooks, but does simply not convey the reality of life. I don’t know, maybe the teachers can simply not relate to those adolescents sitting in front of them, or maybe they don’t care enough to empathise.
When I was around twelve years old, we had some sort of sex ed. It was a very informal affair, after all we grew up at the age of the internet, had all seen copulation filmed by a webcam before and had learned the meaning of words like ‘bukkake’ from our peers. It was certainly not the age of innocence. The only thing that we maybe needed to learn more about was long-term protection, but I’m pretty sure we were all familiar with how to use a condom (curiosity is powerful!).
On the other hand, we knew very little about the meaning of the word ‘puberty’. Surely we had heard out parents throw this word around casually, but it had seemed more like an accusation or an insult. We had literally no idea. This was where the sex ed could have become an enlightenment and relieved us of our ignorance. Sadly, however, it did not. We learned loads about STDs and pregnancy and menstruation, and they squeezed in the topic of ‘puberty’ somewhere at the end.
This is where my rage stems from: In a few sentences we were told that puberty lasted from ages 12 – 16 for girls and 14 – 16 for boys usually (‘that’s why you girls will be mature earlier!’) and that it came with unpleasant surprises: greasy hair, sweat, pubes, spots, moodiness and all of those pleasantries. That was that. I can still remember putting my hand up reluctantly and asking whether that meant this ordeal would be over when I was sixteen. The teacher answered that this was not an exact date and that it varied with everyone, but yes, puberty would end.
Around that time I also read a book that my mum brought by – ‘My spot and I’ (literally translated by German author Ilona Einwohlt. It was basically a novel about a teenage girl with little intersections of facts and knowledge about hormones and all of that. I knew a lot about puberty. I was ready for it.
Puberty itself must have come and gone without much of a hassle. Surely I had some spots and I continued growing, but it was all quite a mild transition.
Here is what I’m angry about: Both sex ed and this book (especially this book) gave the impression that puberty was an unpleasant four-year period that, at the end of it, would leave us as fully functional adults both physically and mentally. That, as you might know, is simply not so. People have spots even after they turn 18. This might seem trivial, but I simply did not know. Nobody ever told me. And now, every time I detect a tiny little crater on my face, I think back to sex ed and that book and I wish they had told me. I wish they had prepared me for the fact that I would not leave school as a fully assembled person, having all my shit together and flawless skin. We continue to change and to learn and that is a good thing, really. But I might have needed some time to adjust to this mindset.