Montgomery County Maryland is one of the most affluent areas of the United States and its school system is correspondingly outstanding. So why would you go there if you wanted to find some of the most clueless and insensitive teachers and school administrators you’ve ever some across?

Answer: that’s where nearly 100 students were asked to take turns chewing the same piece of gum in the name of sex education. This blog is being written before the next Jay Leno show, but you can be assured his joke writers are already composing several anecdotes for Leno to deliver.

The idea behind the chewing gum demonstration was to reveal to the students how sexually transmitted diseases are spread. While many of the students say they were “grossed out” by the exercise, most in the classes agreed to participate, chewing for a while on the gum, then passing it on the next subject. When parents learned of the class lesson, they were understandably incensed and demanded an explanation.

The “explanation” merely produced more outrage. It seems that the gum and saliva sharing were the brainstorm of the Rockville (Maryland) Pregnancy Center which has conducted similar experiments over the past nine years at some of the county’s other exceptional schools. The center is said to be religiously oriented, and frequently quotes the Bible to underscore its stance against casual sex. Even the high school’s director of health services described the activity as “unacceptable and unsanitary.”

A quick viewing of Google confirmed the health director’s concern: saliva can pass along bacterial meningitis, cold sores, the common cold, herpes virus, hepatitis B, and mononucleosis. Add to that the fairly recent belief among teens that oral sex is not really sex, and that significant numbers of teens are engaging in this activity, and you have a really good reason not to swap chewing gum.

It’s easy to understand why the students agreed to participate in the clinic’s experiment. Not only were authority figures setting up and encouraging participation, the students’ very own teachers were in the back of the room observing every action without any apparent concern. And, it must be admitted, the activity was a little quirky and thus the type of escapade that many highschoolers might find appealing.

So the clinic has been declared persona non grata, the school officials who hired the pregnancy consultants have been disciplined, the indignant parents have had their say on the front page of the metro section, and the students had something engaging to post on My Space. Yet the fearfulness and anxiety on the part of parents remain – because we now have another frightening example of dithering and stupefaction on the part of those to whom, on a daily basis, we entrust our children.


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