It's the sort of headline that makes parents want to grab their kids and lock them up, or at least stuff them into protective bubbles: Allegedly two second graders engaged in oral sex in an Oakland, CA classroom... while the teacher was present. I know that I couldn't figure out which part to be more horrified over first: The fact that kids that young are engaging in blatant sexual behavior, or that it supposedly happened while they were under a teacher's care.
The details released in this case are scant, at best. Markham Elementary, the school in question, has apparently admitted that the case "appears to have merit" (bonus: this was "not the first time" kids removed clothing in this class) and has suspended the teacher involved. Outraged parents received a letter from the principal apologizing for the "egregious lack of supervision," but beyond that, no one seems to know exactly what happened.
And I'm not talking about (or wanting) sordid details, of course. Here are the things I want to know:
1) Did this indeed happen right in front of a teacher, or are we talking about while the teacher was out of the classroom grabbing more coffee?
2) Was the teacher in the room, but the kids were around the corner or otherwise out of sight?
3) Has every child in the classroom in question and their families received consultation with appropriate counseling services, and further support (therapy) if necessary?
From my perspective -- and I'm hardly the first to say this -- the alleged behavior is something that suggests one or both children in this scenario has either been sexually abused at worst, or at best at least exposed to inappropriate behavior and/or media. This specific event is of much less concern to me than what is being done now to ascertain which child(ren) here require intervention. My money is on the tragedy of this situation being that there are children who may be in dangerous situations at home, not that something untoward happened at school.
As for the teacher, unless evidence is presented that he was a participating or coercing force in these events, sure, I'll agree with Markham's principal that there could be an egregious lack of supervision going on, but I also know that children tend to be 1) small and 2) stealthy. Maybe I'm just not wanting to believe this teacher is part of the problem, but my kids have committed all sorts of atrocities right under my nose in their day, and no one I know has always seen every transgression the moment it starts happening. I'm willing to believe this teacher might not be negligent. (Again, I'm just guessing. But while I'm guessing: One teacher, maybe thirty students? Does this classroom have a coatroom? A bathroom? A puppet stage or anywhere else where kids could hide? Was this something that happened over the course of 30 seconds or are we talking about kids disappearing for an hour?)
The blogosphere is abuzz:
Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory spoke with John Myers, an expert on child sexuality and abuse:
I mentioned to Myers that when I was in second grade -- in Berkeley, just a few miles from the school in question -- I remember boys would hump the floor and one cornered me with a line learned from Color Me Badd, "I wanna sex you up." "That's what we'd expect from a kid of that age," he said. "That behavior has been going on since time immemorial. Little kids play doctor, they're curious from a very early age. Sexual behavior is normal, but [the Oakland case] is way, way off the chart."
(The comments on the Salon piece are a mixture of interesting and horrifying; several commenters try to defend this case as "natural childhood curiosity." Ack.)
I am outraged that this could happen in the classroom right in front of the teacher. How much commotion could have been going on for him not to have seen two children having oral sex? Didn't he notice them taking clothing off?
Again, I wonder if our tendency as parents is to want to blame the adult in the situation, rather than to consider how such young children may have arrived at this behavior.
And on The Dirt, DirtyGurl says she believes the kids involved must have been exposed to abuse, but she also believes the teacher and even the school should face consequences as well. Furthermore:
This is the reason why I refuse to let my children join after school programs that I cannot monitor. This is why there is not joining of the Boy Scouts, or any other program. I have said it before, and will continue to do so….pedophiles will always seek positions that put them in direct contact with children.
I think there's a line between overprotection and naive trust, and never is that line more important than when we are tasked with the safety of a child. But figuring out where that line is, well, that's the tricky part. I think never allowing our kids to be in the care of another adult is extreme. I think talking to our children from a very early age about our bodies and how they are private is one of the best gifts we can give them. Children who are performing oral sex on one another in a classroom likely have never had a trusted adult sit them down for the "good touch, bad touch" talk. Kids who are victimized are usually the ones who don't know that they can say no, who don't know that they should trust their instincts about something not feeling right, who maybe don't have reliable adults around who they believe can and will protect them.
So yes, let's find out what happened at Markham Elementary. Let's get help for those kids, deal with the teacher's role in how this occurred, and hope that the school puts appropriate supports in place to prevent anything like this happening ever again. But if hearing about this story horrifies you, don't waste your time vilifying the teacher or tsking over these events. Talk to your kids. Make sure you know what they're watching on television, talking about with their friends, and where they are and what they're doing.
I've seen countless comments about how well, you know, Oakland. While parts of Oakland are high-poverty areas, its reputation likely has nothing to do with this sexual impropriety; the Silicon Valley Mercury News reports that Markham itself has had a good reputation in the area. Make sure your family empowers every member with an understanding of what is and isn't okay, and what to do if something isn't right. This story didn't make the news because it's an isolated incident; it made the news because it happened in a classroom and the school handled it badly. This stuff can and does happen everywhere, in different ways, and as the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense.
My thoughts are with the families at Markham Elementary this week. I hope they're all talking with their kids, and getting whatever help they need.
BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir Kamin is doing her best to keep her kids safe without smothering them. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.
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