Growing Up American: Birth, Sex, and Hitler

It's hard to believe now that sex education is a mainstay of American schooling. It didn't start out well and has only become more controversial with each passing decade.

My sex education began when I was 12, though the majority of my classmates had celebrated their 13th birthday long before. (My mother had tried to hold me back a year to begin kindergarten with an age appropriate class, but the power of the State had prevailed.)

I had just begun sex education under the guise of "health class." My parents had no choice to opt-out of this course, nor were they made aware of what was specifically to be taught.

The class was taught by the resident gym teacher. Looking back, it was obvious the poor man was nervous and would have rather been doing anything other than revealing the mechanizations of hidden parts to his young minions. The day before, he had shown us diagrams of "private parts" on an opaque projector. We were all shocked and couldn't wait for the bell to ring.

Unlike children of today, who seem to be familiar with every aspect of sexual relations at an early age; most of my peers (who weren't helping change the diapers of little brothers or sisters at home), were truly learning the details of anatomy for the first time. Students looked at each other suspiciously. When the teacher asked if there were any questions, there weren't any to be asked out loud. We seemed genuinely disgusted as we glanced at each other's pants.

On to the next school day, and more awkward moments.

As I walked into health class, the teacher looked apprehensive. He was pacing and sweating. Today, he said, we would learn how babies were created. (The fact that all of this was being revealed by a male gym teacher made me uncomfortable. I now gave him a wide berth whenever I saw him in gym class, as did most of the other female students.)

When the time came, the "big reveal" wasn't as horrible as I'd anticipated. "I'm not going to say anything," the teacher said. "I want you to just read the first paragraph on page ten of your book. You will have fifteen minutes to read it and think about it." We read the paragraph quietly. The teacher sat perched on a stool in the corner; biting his lip and avoiding eye contact. When the time was up, he asked, "Any questions? Don't be afraid to ask questions." He was praying there would be none, and in our usual manner, there weren't. We silently stared at him as if we'd been told he killed puppies for fun.

Though surprised again, I was mostly convinced what I'd read wasn't physically possible even while playing Twister. And I was even more convinced the book had left something out about the belly button playing a key role in the whole process. (When I was a toddler, I'd shoved my finger in my belly button to see what would happen. After my mother told me sternly never to do that again, I was convinced it held the key to some unspoken mystery in the world.)

Still, it was a lot to ponder as I plodded to my next class -- Social Studies. There, our teacher suddenly announced it was time we saw the horrors of the Holocaust. In all honesty, I believe she was drunk, as we hadn't had much of a backstory. For nearly an hour, we watched the grotesque films and photos that would become so familiar to us in later life: Piles of dead bodies, emaciated people, unspeakable suffering... ashes in ovens.

When it was over she said, "Hitler was a horrible, horrible man. Any questions?" ("Yeah, how do you sneak the whisky in?" I thought to myself.) Sitting behind me, the son of the city's most prominent attorney raised his hand. "Yes, Todd?" she asked. He stood and recited a limerick concerning Mussolini's "weenie." The class laughed and the teacher clasped her hands, shrieked happily, and told him it was very good. (She was sure to need a good lawyer any day.) Still in shock from the images, the ensuing limerick and the teacher's reaction nearly caused me to vomit. In truth, she had done a very poor job of explaining what we were looking at and why -- though in fairness, those were questions many of the Allied soldiers who liberated the concentration camps would struggle with for a lifetime.

As was the case with sex education, my parents had not been informed we were going to see some of the most gruesome images known to man. My mother was clearly upset when I told her how long and detailed the Holocaust film had been.

That night, I went to bed troubled. My mind was racing. I made up my mind I didn't want to be an adult -- ever. I drifted off to sleep and images emerged from the darkness like a Hitchcock film. Suddenly there was a man floating above my bed trying to kiss me. As his face emerged from the mist I could clearly see it was Adolf Hitler! I woke up in the morning wondering what it all meant. I wondered if I was an evil person. Remembering the dream made me shudder, and I slunk to school hoping no one could read my mind. I decided to lock it in the "ask mom later" box in my brain. I finally came to realize that the shocking revelations of that one school day had overwhelmed my young mind. My subconscious, unable to process it, mated Hitler with sex education and the revolting nightmare was born.

The next school day I was forced to watch cartoon characters named Syphilis and Gonorrhea square dancing. They told us it had something to do with sex, but I couldn't stop laughing. I was scolded. This was a serious subject. I wondered why, if we were being forced to become adults at breakneck speed, we were now required to watch cartoons?

Thanks to people like Dr. Judith Reisman, the world would learn that the man who inspired modern sex education, Alfred Kinsey, was both a fraud and a pervert. It hasn't made much of a difference in school curriculums, however. We've continued to degrade so badly that even our president says sex education in kindergarten is the "right thing to do." It has been decreed: government has the power to steal childhood.

As for me at 12, I decided to push it all aside and continue writing the fictional adventures of two real rabbits that lived in the sprawling woods behind my house.I was lucky. The combination of my own happy mind, my parents, and the woods,would ensure my imagination and childhood innocence remained intact. Would that we could resist the government intrusion in our little ones lives today, so they could concentrate once again on enjoying the brief time God gives thembefore adulthood brings its grievous burdens to bear.

Susan D. Harris can be reached at

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