Monday, May 25

Sex, class, and our debt to society

[Welcome to the beautiful people coming here from Crooks and Liars.]

I attended a Community Organizing type meeting sponsored by the school district where as of next year, all three of my children will attend. The meeting was run by the President of the School Board, a man who clearly came from a long line of AME preachers, because "parental involvement in education" was not just the theme of the meeting, it was the God bless-ed gospel, and don't you forget it.

We parents who attended a 90 minute mid-day meeting to discuss parental involvement over cold Subway platters? Yeah. He was preaching to the converted.

The purpose of the meeting was to gather feedback and help to form a plan of action to help more parents in our community involve themselves in their children's education. We brainstormed on reasons why parents in my community might not become involved. Some of the reasons, and I am not making these up, on the paper flipchart (thank you Jesus there was no Powerpoint presentation):

Lack of transportation
Holding down multiple jobs
Substance abuse
Power is turned off at home
One or both parents are incarcerated

I mean, we got to "incarceration" within four minutes.

I live in a poor city. Every elementary school in the district is designated Title I, which means extra Federal funds because, duh, the majority of parents in the district are low income. It's called "Improving The Academic Achievement Of The Disadvantaged" but in the world of No Child Left Behind the focus is, of course, far more about standardized test scores than about making sure the child's home has a paid electric bill and at least one parent not in jail.

image from drunkstepmother's collection. Irony is dead.

A few days after this meeting, I met, literally on the schoolyard, an acquaintance, the mother of one of my 6yo's friends. She's under 30, dayglo red hair, tattoos, and a hand-cut cleavage wild child t-shirt.

She's pregnant. Again.

"We found out late. I'm due August 4. I just found out this week."

Dear readers: I do not do math in my head very quickly, but I knew right away for a fact that this woman had gone four cycles pregnant and had just "found out." Granted, as someone who has gone through infertility treatment, I STILL know two years after my tubes were done my exact day of would-be ovulation every single month.

But look, it's one thing to not know anything about what is going on in the world or even your kid's school and not give a shit. It's another to not know what the hell is going on in your own body.

Mr. Gingrich, while I have you on the phone, allow me to say that I am far more worried about the threat to this nation of ignorant parents and their neglected children, as well as a government policy that thinks they can fix these problems with standardized testing, than I am about some invented terrorist boogie man you want to prop up on the Sunday shows. And don't you EVER mention family values while I'm within castrating distance of you.


Unlike this whole torture-the-terrorists BS brought on by Cheney and Gingrich, there is an actual debate going on in the Republican party over sex: exemplified by Bristol Palin on the 'anti-sex' side and Meghan McCain on the 'pro-sex' side. It recalls a New Yorker article I've linked many times before and will again, Red Sex, Blue Sex:

Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion.
So Bristol Palin gets pregnant and doesn't get an abortion, and her choices are understood and even accepted in Red State world. And Meghan McCain is clearly sexually active but doesn't get pregnant, and describes herself as a "progressive Republican."

It's become very clear to me this week after offering, sincerely, to help the "just found out" mom find some hand-me-down baby clothes, that the debate between Bristol and Meghan is not about political party or feminism or even sex itself. It is about economic class. (Yes, my preschooler can tell you that Mommy is a Marxist in the intellectual sense.)

Remember the wonderful old movie Pygmalion, from the Shaw play, with Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard? Done far better than the My Fair Lady version, mind you. Professor Higgins announces that he will make Eliza Doolittle into a fine lady by teaching her to speak properly:

HIGGINS [carried away] Yes: in six months -- in three if she has a good ear and a quick tongue -- I'll take her anywhere and pass her off as anything. We'll start today: now! this moment! Take her away and clean her, Mrs. Pearce. Is there a good fire in the kitchen?

MRS. PEARCE [protesting]. Yes; but—

HIGGINS [storming on] Take all her clothes off and burn them. Ring up Whitely or somebody for new ones. Wrap her up in brown paper til they come.

LIZA. You're no gentleman, you're not, to talk of such things. I'm a good girl, I am; and I know what the like of you are, I do.

HIGGINS. We want none of your slum prudery here, young woman. You've got to learn to behave like a duchess.
Behaving like a duchess means having no concern over whether society thinks you are a 'good girl' sexually. George Bernard Shaw understood that the cultural battle over sexual morals is not about sex. It's about whether you need to position yourself as morally superior about sex, because that is your economic class's only claim to gentility. (Notice Eliza's slum prudery extends so far as to getting naked for a bath.)

Oh. Did somebody say duchess?

There she is, the daughter of military royalty and brewmaster aristocracy. The word "privileged" comes to mind.

Something Bristol Palin is not.

Bristol Palin recently said "If girls realized the consequences of sex, nobody would be having sex. Trust me. Nobody." Clearly, 'nobody' does not include Meghan McCain, because Meghan has the financial, emotional, and educational resources to protect herself from the unwanted consequences of sexual activity. In a word, she can afford to be pro-sex. Hell, if she gets pregnant, she can afford a crib that costs as much as educating three kids in Catholic school for a year.

Or have Cindy's people call for shipping. The wealthy can afford the crib and the sex and the babies and even the abortions, even if the poor in the red states were to succeed in making that illegal. There's always a trip to Canada, Norway, or a high-priced physician willing to perform an undocumented "procedure." Most importantly, unlike the vast unwashed of Red State Evangelicalism, the rich do not need a pro-life anti-sex political position to be Better Than You.

The rich can also afford to opt out of Title I public education. In doing so, they leave their debt to society completely and utterly unpaid. Not ironically, education leads to a higher 'class' of people, people who don't need slum morals and sexual hypocrisy to prove superior societal status. If we want less influence for the religious right and the Republican Party that takes advantage of their ignorance, we have to start going to public school board meetings and find baby clothes and maybe a clue for the unrefined mother down the street. Paying my debt to society includes her baby, too.

cross-posted at SexGenderBody


  1. Great post Blue Gal!

  2. It's writing like this that makes you what you are. Amazing.

  3. Great post! Whew.

  4. Class is at the heart of most of the problems in this country. I can tell you that my sister, who has struggled economically her entire life, would sometimes go for months and months without having a period -- I think it was because her diet was so poor her body thought it was starving.

    She has lived in a house with no electricity or running water for months -- making it a challenge to receive a call from the school. And she has never had a drivers license, and didn't have access to a car for most of her adult life. (Yes, for a brief time she had a car, but no license.)

    Now here is the part that makes me crazy. We were raised in the same house by the same parents. How could we have turned out to be so different?

    I do know from observing her that once you become poor it's next to impossible to get out of that poverty trap. The support families receive from the government is "all-or-nothing." They either cover everything for you, or kick you to the curb. It seems a more reasonable solution would be to gradually ween someone from public assistance. Give them a chance to make it on their own before pulling the rug out from under their feet.

    And even today, my sister is living with me now because she is in heart failure and has no way to support herself. She has been deemed "disabled" by the government, so is now receiving $743 a month in disability income. The DI, however, makes her too wealthy to receive Medicaid. If a person earns more than $350 a month they do not qualify for Medicaid. Crazy, isn't it?

    There are a lot of things wrong in this country, and a lot of challenges to be faced, but I agree with you BG ... chasing after Newt's "terrorist boogie man" just doesn't seem like a top priority.


  5. This is such a well thought out and written post that connects many dots in the universal societal dot-to-dot. Even in our dire financial straits right now, I still have a safety net of family. I am well aware of what a privilege that is, and the fact of my college education that allows me my job stability, even though my husband can't find work. The children that I teach, by and large are from families that walk the edge of disaster. Maybe they are undocumented immigrants about to get picked up in a sweep. Maybe they are facing eviction. (Both of which our sheriff -- a Democrat, by the way -- seems to carry out with great enthusiasm.) Parents incarcerated? That's a fact of life in urban public schools.

    Where does reform begin? I believe it begins with families. That birth to 3 period is SO essential, and providing everything young parents need in order to parent well would be a fraction of the cost of incarceration, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention Pakistan, Colombia and who knows where the hell else ... ,) Gitmo, the so-called "War on Terrorism", No Child Left Behind, etc. etc.

    Hey, BG, thank you for your passion and eloquence.

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  7. This is another wonderful post, BG. As a teacher in a low-income school system, I see those children of young parents everyday. Many of the 3-5 year old children I teach have parents who are younger than I, I am 30, and many of them have multiple children. There seems to be a lack of sex education in this country and abstinence-only education is the main culprit, IMHO. This is where I do agree with Meghan McCain, she acknowledges that abstinence-only education is not working.

    I agree with you that class is a defining issue in the sex education debate where those who are not wealthy are in public schools where abstinence-only education is more prominent, it seems. In a private school, sex education can be more inclusive if the parents and faculty want it to be inclusive. Parents who place their children in private schools also tend to do more education in the home including sex education. Thus giving them several advantages over lower socioeconomic families.

    But lets be clear here, Bristol Palin is not poor and her family is not poor. She may not have had the exact same advantages as Megan McCain, but she also did not live on welfare and she has a two-parent home and both of her parents have good paying jobs, all of which allows her to have more choices than many others. So, Palins’s push for abstinence-only education is not out of any lack of education or desire to help those less fortunate, it is purely religiously based. She does not want teenagers to have sex because it is a sin, not because she wants to help people to stay out of poverty.

  8. Thanks, Blue Gal - this is a great post.

    But you've hit on what must surely be the third rail of US culture: we never, ever discuss class.

    Part of our mythology is that we are not a class-based society, and yet everyone knows that we are. Every town has a line of demarcation somewhere, the proverbial railroad tracks with the allegedly good people on one side and the bad people on the other.

    I grew up in a town where literally everyone knew where everyone else stood. The town was built in the side of a hill, and the higher up the hill, the higher the class. The main street was the line of demarcation, and the joke on the top of the hill was that everyone below the main drag were living in "Baja-[name of town]" -- but we were told to never say that in front of anyone from, well, you know.

    As high schoolers, we knew not to date people from the other side. Some of the more notable families (who had lived there for generations) were so intermarried that there were some real fears about dating a cousin.

    And when Oops! someone got pregnant, they were whisked away to a "year abroad." And sometimes they would return with an adopted baby brother. It should have been a scandal, but it was just sort of accepted, no questions asked.



  9. Very well-written, and right on the mark!

    Thanks for the amazing post!

  10. It never ceased to amaze me how relatively few people turned up for PTA type meetings, but the rafters were full for sports events.
    Sure it;s fun to show school spirit & cheer on your team, but how about the core essentials of your own kids education?

    I will admit, oftentimes they did ask you if you would volunteer more time or pitch in for events, but once you get past that first kid, you quickly realize you have to set limits & boundaries.

    Yes I can do this activity & not I can't do X,Y or Z.

    We have one school in the district that has the vast majority of kids who live in poverty. The teachers soon realized in order to teach them they had to first meet their essential needs.
    Programs started that served the kids breakfasts, healthy snacks.... a hungry kid can not function well in the classroom.
    They also added programs to give out laundry detergent, toiletries & school supplies.
    Not only do kids need to be fed, but clean & healthy.
    The other schools extolled the virtues of the impoverished school, but when they asked about splitting up some of the low income kids to other schools, they got the cold shoulder.

    They were willing to tell them what a great job they were doing, but not willing to actually take on having kids with extra needs in their better off schools. Ha!

    As fate would have it-- enrollments district wide have dropped, and the impoverished school building was so old it fell into disrepair & was no longer practical to try to maintain-- by default, they would up splitting the students into various schools.
    I sure hope they kept up the additional support programs.

    As a Mom who did drag my tired ass to PTA-ish meetings, I was amazed that the few of us who did attend, were able to participate in making very important decisions....having year round school, having TV's installed in every classroom, and other major decisions.
    the year round school theme was voted down because not all schools would participate.....(high schools were on a different schedule due to Federally mandated testing times.

    Families would have a nightmare trying to do anything, and the district had no $ for air conditioning.... hot as hell classrooms are not great halls of learning!

    the TV in the classroom was from a private commercial endeavor.... the students old be subjected to commercials as a part of the deal to have the "free" tv's installed.
    Captive audiences for commercial viewing?
    No .... I provided research kids spent too many hours watching TV anyway.
    Could you imaging your kid being forced to watch Military recruiting commercials at Middle school age? That was a no go decision as well.

    Obviously if your family is in crisis- in jail, no electric, etc..... those folks are not in a position to participate.

    Maybe if attending had some support/funding... have childcare & light snacks, so it might ease the burden for someone who might like to attend?

    I noticed schools that did offer free childcare for meeting times, were better attended.

    BTW~ My kids went to public schools.

  11. geek_guy6:34 PM

    Great post. it reminds me a little of the difference between the Republicans and those who vote Republican(TWVR). The main purpose of the Republican Party is to appease the the richest Americans (I.E. the top 2%). The Republican party is for tax breaks for themselves only, elimination of Estate Tax (or as the TWVR refer it to as the "death tax"), and capital gain tax cuts. For THEIR corporations they seek tax breaks and to maximize profits, lower safety standards, get rid the EPA, eliminate minimum wage and other "benefits" of their serfs.
    You can't win with 2% of the vote so you sucker in the TWVR with wedge issues.
    As you stated, they don't care about banning abortions, when they can fly off to foreign countries for "spa treatments".
    Republicans don't care about gun control when they have their own armed security.
    Republicans don't care gay marriage, when their gay lovers are well financed on the side and in their own apartments.
    But they easily duped the TWVR into voting to benefit the top 2% even at their own expense and livelihood.
    Getting back to education, notice how the NCLB, pushing for vouchers are just some steps the Republicans are trying to ruin public education. An uneducated workforce is less likely to "rise up", oddly there are very few manufacturing jobs left that would employ the lesser educated.

  12. Great post.

    I think the observations are spot on, and I see the indifference to the cores of education spreading upwards into higher education, where everyone cares about this year's sports chances but bashes the "lazy" and "demanding" faculty that "punish" students with high standards.

  13. Sad, really.

    If I were the Czar of the United States for a day, my only acts would be to

    1. Prohibit private schools and force the wealthy back into he public school system, and

    2. Remake the tax code to ensure that they also paid their full way.

    The pernicious effect of allowing the upper classes a free ride has brought us to this, where ignorant armies of pregnant hillbillies march by night.


  14. Excellent post Blue Gal! We're in an opposite situation here, a relatively well-off Parish where the school parking lot is full of Suburbans, Hummers and Lexi. The upside is great parental involvement, the downside is a certain amount of looking down on folks like me who come to PTA meetings straight from work, wearing my uniform. Even so, this is a GOP stronghold, and I was astounded at how many very young moms I saw at the Kindergarten promotion who were schlepping at least one younger sibling. I don't hold much hope of there ever being anything resembling comprehensive sex education here, the combination of Catholocism and Republican politics will stomp it out in short order.

  15. one of your best posts ever!!!!

  16. What Sherry said.
    You cranked this one out of the park.

  17. You are exactly right. I thought something similar right after Katrina. People thought Bush hated black people, and he didn't. He hated poor people.

  18. Fantastic post, it illustrates that the best blogging comes from the real world, NOT from repeating what you read on someone else's blog(s).

    Just one question - WTF is AME? I googled it, and I'm pretty sure you're not referring to the Aircraft Maintenance Engineers.

    BAC: "Class is at the heart of most of the problems in this country." Amen. In a country where it is considered self-evident that all men (and women) are created equal, it's amazing how much effort has gone into ensuring that they're not.

    Blue Gal "And don't you EVER mention family values while I'm within castrating distance of you." LMAO! And amen.

  19. Great post, but I'd give the pregnant woman the benefit of the doubt. I've known women who spotted on a regular basis through the first half of their pregnancies, or were so irregular they really had no clue when they were ovulating. I have a hard time understanding it, but I know it happens. And her birth control may have failed -- it happens.

  20. Sad But True - google 'AME church'.

    Nan and others - I give pregnant acquaintance a big pass but not as big as I would give a first time mother. She's been pregnant before, she has at least a five year old and maybe others I haven't met. There are many more symptoms to pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, than lack of menstruation. Exhaustion and pain that only a pregnant woman can know are just two. A sexually active woman who has been pregnant and delivered before and is paying any attention to her health whatsoever would have some inkling, enough to pee on a strip. This person needs my help and I will offer it, but I have no hesitation in saying she is mentally asleep at the wheel when it comes to her own reproductive cycle and her responsibility for it.

  21. We have the same sort of environment here as you. Lots of teen pregnancies, ignorance, poverty. Great post, I hear you and agree with you 100%. A big problem with the school here is that our board consists of people with no higher education so they are pretty much a dead end most of the time.

  22. Brava, BG!

    On so many issues, it really comes down to class and power over everything else. I'm so sick of opposition to accurate, comprehensive sex ed and basic social support systems. It makes no economic sense, in addition to being callous.

  23. Class is a big issue in this country. I couldn't agree more. I grew up poor and got good grades in school. Mainly because I loved to read. It wasn't my parents efforts or even the teachers when I was younger that helped me in school. It was my love of reading that helped. I liked to read because I needed a way to get out of my head and my semi tragic stupid life. It was an escape. But it brought me lots of dividends!

    When I had my kids in my 20s and I went to PTA meetings it was made very clear to me that I was not welcome. I wasn't one of "them" if you know what I mean. So I stopped going. I think the middle class is just as bad as the upper class sometimes in being condescending toward lower classed economic groups. You know when people are looking down their noses at you.

  24. Hey Blue Gal! Great post! I know what you're talking about with the Title I thing/poor school districts. We live in an area where there are a high number of kids with free/reduced lunches-which is the indicator for which schools are "poorer" and which are "the rich ones." Standardized testing is (like all school districts) out of control, but with these schools-many of them with kids who are ESL, etc, the standardized testing just continues to push schools into more and more failure. Some schools have already had to be "restructured" by the Dept of Ed due to poor test scores. What really gets me is seeing or hearing about some involved parent moving their child to a private school. That is one less involved, participatory parent. I hate to say it but the parents that are left often are the ones like the young woman you described-too young, uninvolved, and not educated enough to be involved with their kid's education.
    I think your comments about sex, class and how they affect education are spot on!

  25. It's difficult for me not be extremely judgmental of the ignorant mother who got pregnant at too young of an age and dresses like a tramp, even though I recognize it's unfair of me to be so harsh.

    This stems from seeing my Father's side of the family in action, who are incredibly white trash, do not take pride in keeping a clean house, yard, nor mete out adequate discipline to their children.

    One of my first cousins won the dubious honor of the third generation of women knocked up before the age of sixteen. She now has three kids with the same guy and has been married and divorced to the baby daddy twice. And yes, class does come into play here along with adequate education. Sadly, in a rural county in East Alabama where unemployment has been nearly 15% for ten years, ever since the textile mills closed, situations like this are growing more prevalent. I wish I knew some way to fix it.

  26. absolutely, scathingly brilliant.

    as a resident of the state that was the "no child left behind petri dish" (texas), you really hit the nail on the head about the state of education in this country...

    oh, and your assessments of red state sex are spot on.

  27. Excellent BG. We need to continue to push early childhood interventions in this country if we ever want to make serious progress for those without wealth. NCLB is a wastebof resources. Researchers are now saying we could do a better job of assessing children's needs by just checking who knows their alphabet in the beginning of kindergarten. If they don't, get them help. They're already behind.


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