[Metroactive Features]

[ Features Index | North Bay | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

[whitespace] Schoolkids

Going for the Goal

It's 10:30, and your child knows exactly where she is

By Gretchen Giles

Daniel is a very healthy 15-year-old Petaluma High School student who fully expects to contract adult diabetes at age 42. Don't be alarmed: He plans to triumph over the disease by age 47. Once cured, he aims to live to 99, soberly aware that he'll probably have prostate cancer by then, as he's learned that many men either die of or with this disease.

Having married at 30, retired at 50, written full memoirs by 55, and built two dream houses at ages 53 and 64, respectively, Daniel's thankfully looks to be a good life. In between he'll golf (age 37), garden (59), read for universal pleasure (73), and live a quiet life by the ocean for a few years (74).

This young man also knows when he'd first like to have sex and which drugs he plans to take and in what amount, but he's not quite as forthcoming with that information.

How about you? Got the next several decades all mapped out yet?

For those of us still trying to conduct ourselves by stumbling from accident to epiphany in no discernible order, perhaps it's time for a high school refresher course in Human Interaction.

Adopted by the Petaluma City Schools District in 1993, Human Interaction is more than just a fancy name for sex education, and it's absolutely not like any sex ed I remember. Of course, the shocking memory of my elegant sixth-grade teacher suddenly producing an ancient sanitary-napkin belt and hoisting it up over the skirt of her faux Chanel suit, repellently girded for either chastity or battle as she explained the menses, couldn't be the same as yours. Or so I hope.

We had drug information sessions in which synthetic marijuana smoke was wafted straight up our noses to Pavlov us into virulent rejection of the stuff. We saw dead people's stupid cigarette-ravaged lungs encased in Lucite, we worried that our DNA would be rearranged by LSD, and we giggled over the innocently persistent questions of one classmate who just couldn't understand what had happened to his pajama bottoms in the night.

And then, with little more solid introduction to the vagaries of adulthood, we were released into the world. We were making it up ourselves as we stumbled along.

If Petaluma High School English and Human Interaction teacher Bobbin Tobin has her way, this generation of kids isn't going to stumble a step. They'll trot because Tobin's students undergo an intensive 18-week compulsory course that teaches young adults to make choices so well in advance of opportunity that certain things--like sexual activity and drug use--are just simply settled.

"All those programs like 'Just Say No' have been shown not to work," Tobin says emphatically, sitting in the dark afternoon light of her classroom, having spent the morning there teaching summer school.

"What consistently works," Tobin says, "are positive things. Kids who have goals, kids who are going to college, kids whose parents are involved--those kids make better decisions about their lives. So goal setting is part of the class. They set their own grade goals, they set their food goals for health, and as the class progresses, they set a sex goal.

"They also have to set a drug goal," she adds. "'What drugs do you see yourself using and under what conditions? The drug that puts you most at risk for HIV is alcohol. You say that you're going to remain a virgin, but you're going to be drinking? How are you going to do this?'

"What the [experts] are saying is that kids are ending up in sexual situations, and they don't know how they got there," she continues. "So on a Monday or Tuesday morning at school, they're asked to set their sex goal: 'Where, when, under what conditions, how long would you know that person?' They have to say it! One of the things that our [visiting] speakers present is that if you don't have a plan for yourself, somebody else can sidetrack you."

Having a plan for yourself means having a sense of your own history, who you've been so that you can more clearly see who you want to be. To that end, Tobin has the class engage in such lifeline exercises as Daniel's exhaustive delineation of disease, health, marriage, dream homes, and all that reading for universal interest.

"They can't win the lottery," Tobin laughs. "They all want the good stuff. The restriction I put on it is that you have to bury your parents. You have to do that because your parents want you to; they don't want to bury you. You have to face a major illness because most of us do, and I want it to be one you can survive. I don't want it to be cancer. Again, it's about going for those goals."

A student gone astray is what led Tobin to her goal-setting evangelism. Shocked in 1992 to learn that a former student had contracted HIV while attending Petaluma High ("It burst my bubble," she says), Tobin asked for and received permission to put a one-week AIDS prevention course smack in the middle of her freshman English classes.

The next year the school board formally adopted the Human Interaction program, one that's unique in the county. Tobin again asked to teach it.

"Abstinence is my battle cry," she says, admitting that she's surprised by her own fervor. "I never would have said that it started that way, and I don't say abstinence until marriage. My urge is for them to make choices after high school, because I see America selling the kids' teen years away. Abstinence is a way to talk about how to be a kid longer."

While celibacy may be her battle standard, Tobin also has the county health department in for a frank talk about contraception, plenty of classroom condom passing, and excited discussion of the pending male contraceptive pill.

Tobin's class is also heavy on family interaction. Students must interview squirming parents who wish they were better liars on the particulars of their own youth, and are even urged to ask their parents what birth-control methods they themselves employ. "'I don't want to know!'" Tobin mock-cries, imitating her students, but persists. "I ask them: 'How many children do you want to have? Thirty-six, one for every year you're married? Birth control will become an issue in your life. Do your parents have 16 children? Probably not. They've made some decisions.'"

Sex education only occupies a third of the program that Tobin has devised with fellow Petaluma High School teacher Peggy Wiley. The other 12 weeks range from apartment hunting to job applications to the food pyramid to--in Tobin's eyes, perhaps most importantly--learning how the media manipulates young people.

"[Our kids are] seen as Africa--an undeveloped resource," she says angrily. "Advertisers talk about them as the ideal group because their brains aren't fully developed, but they've got access to money. . . . You ask how sex education has changed? I wish that I could go back and get my degree in media analysis, because the manipulation of the dominant culture to be mindless and instinctual--to go wherever the instinct is--is so counterproductive to the health of our kids.

"If everybody took the TV out of their houses," she adds, "I would not have to teach this class. The information that comes in because of it targets them and is so sexualized.

"I'm not their life," she says of her students, energetically gathering up her lunch and briefcase to depart for another appointment. "I have them for 18 weeks. The best I can do is to start a dialogue with each family, but some families are not safe to have dialogues with. I have kids who can get drugs from their parents. If I could get the kids to understand that they are caretaking themselves for their future and that they have to treat themselves very, very thoughtfully, then I've done what I'm trying to do."

From goal to goal, in a very discernible order.

[ North Bay | Metroactive Central | Archives ]


From the August 15-21, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.




Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate