Because I write a blog, I can subject you to any damn fool thing I want, and they only thing either of you can do, my readers, is to stop reading. But then who suffers, huh? Huh?
And thus, while strung out on painkillers trying to find the way to finish the rest of my move today, I am taking the opportunity to write for you about a story that is years old, and not one like the Tuskeegee Experiments, which might occasionally still have up-to-the-minute relevance, or the Tuskegee Airmen, who were fortunate, indeed, to be part of a segregated air force unit so they didn’t have to fight side-by-side with Gungans. (I’m telling you, it was a pretty close call, there.) No, it doesn’t even have anything to do with slavery.
It’s just not that important. And yet, it is the very quotidian nature of it that stuck with me. I keep thinking every so often that I should write about it, then don’t because it’s never important enough. Well, today, strung out on a bit less than the prescribed dose of my prescription painkiller, so obviously not competent to consent to keyboard, there is nothing to stop me. Today is the day you get to hear me talk about the everyday horror that is vagina.
From a news source so perfectly named I must call your attention to it later, we learned 4 years ago that a man used the word vagina in speaking with a female student. More than one, really. And some male students, presumably. Possibly others, though we don’t know that for sure. What we definitely, definitely know is that Tim McDaniel, a teacher of 10th graders and apparently some others in Dietrich, Idaho, used his power and platform as a science teacher to teach the Sex Ed lessons the health teacher refused, for religious reasons, to teach.
Apparently in teaching about the reproductive system, he used the word vagina and four parents were appalled enough to complain. The state Department of Education decided to investigate, although to be fair the allegations also included one thing that might actually have been wrong:
The state investigation includes allegations that McDaniel taught sex education material in his science class, taught forms of birth control, shared confidential student files with an individual other than their parents, told inappropriate jokes and showed a video clip in class that showed a genital herpes infection.
Please note that bit about sharing a confidential student file, though there’s never been a public disclosure about what, exactly, the alleged behavior exactly entailed. Other than that, though, McDaniel was teaching the state-mandated sexual education material straight out of a biology textbook. Yes, he was teaching sex ed in science class instead of health class, but only because he’d been asked to do so as the health teacher was dealing with a bad case of the Christianities. (No information was available on whether or not explicit video of people suffering from Christianity has been shown at the school.)
We know all this because of the diligent reporting of MagicValley.com. That’s right, MagicValley was reporting on the outrageousness of speaking about vaginas. But lest you think they’re pornographers hypocritically avoiding explicit use of the word vagina, MagicValley.com is a family newspaper covering a central region of Idaho bordering I-84 that just happens to be named Magic Valley, you dirty-minded slut.
In fact, they’re so not pornographic, that in covering this uproar that began over the use of explicit images and words, like vagina, they updated their story to remove any and all uses of the word so that they don’t repeat Science Teacher McDaniel’s horrible crimes. There is no editorial note specifying exactly what was updated (though the headline helpfully does tell us updating happened), but Wonkette.com covered this at the time, and fortunately they have preserved certain paragraphs of the original MagicValley-focussed story:
According to McDaniel, four parents were offended that he explained the biology of an orgasm and included the word “vagina” during his lesson on the human reproductive system in a tenth-grade biology course.
Feel free to read the now much-more-boring story still available at MagicValley.com, where they talk about the MagicValley all-day, every-day.
But here the thing that really made writing about this hatred of science teachers using biologically accurate language when discussing aspects of human biology that are required by the state for schools to teach: because McDaniel didn’t get fired, there’s been no significant follow up reporting that I can tell. No one appears to have tried to educate MagicValley parents on the fact that talking about one’s euphemized valleys is actually required and leads to better health and many other positive outcomes, or at least not so much that it made the news more than thrice. The first time MagicValley simply reports that the Department of Education closed the case without action. The second time is a bit of snark which I thoroughly enjoyed, but which I found to be nine months too late, and quite bizarre given that they’d edited the word vagina out of their original reporting. I found myself wondering if the paper was trying to convince itself that it’s okay to use the word vagina in venues where 10th graders might brush up against it.
But the third time isn’t about the allegations per se. No, the third time is about the effects on McDaniel. it’s from just last year – three years after the initial “allegations” by local parents. It’s this bit, years late and not nearly as well reported as the original complaint – perhaps because it’s not as sexy as saying vagina – McDaniel describes being ostracized in the small community of Dietrich:
…after the ethics complaint, things will never be the same.
“It made me fall apart,” he said in early March. “Honestly, it’s something I’ve never forgot.”
McDaniel stopped going to church and school basketball games. He said he’s uncomfortable around other people — something that was never a problem before.
He started going to volleyball games this year because his daughter is playing. But he talks only with his wife — not others in the crowd.
In the classroom, McDaniel said, he’s cautious about what he chooses to teach and wonders whether he’ll get in trouble.
He still loves teaching and helping children. But “the few that made the accusations hurt you for a long time,” he said.
There are many big stories. Many stories, in fact, are much bigger than what we managed to learn fumbling through MagicValley.com. But it’s these pedestrian stories, these every day stories, that more desperately need to be told. McDaniel, new to the Dietrich school where this happened, helped the school meet state standards because he was asked and because the original teacher had opted out. If the original teacher had simply been told that opting out wasn’t an option, that being the health teacher means teaching sexual health, then that teacher, and any teacher regardless of views, might have escaped so much opprobrium, because hey? What can you do, right? It’s just what teachers have to teach.
Ironically, by attempting to help out, by volunteering to teach, McDaniel was put in a position that should never have been allowed to exist. Now, of course McDaniel didn’t do anything wrong, either. This wasn’t the use of sexualized language for the purpose of making others uncomfortable. This wasn’t hounding others for sex. This was just teaching. Teaching accurately. So no, there should also have never been any people thinking there was something for which they should hold McDaniel accountable, but remember for a minute that this ostracism is as much the making of the Dietrich school district as it is that of the foolish and outraged parents that complained.
These are the stories, stories that tell of years of pain, that we need to hear to understand the problem of intolerance in the United States. An official investigation might make a splash on the headlines, but having to live in the community every day is its own special hell for people placed in the same predicament as McDaniel. And yet, if McDaniel doesn’t do it, then some other teacher is going to be the subject of this outrage, and as long as administrators allow teachers to pass the buck, to slough off their educational responsibilities, it will always seem as if there’s some element of individual choice on the part of those teachers. But someone has to teach this stuff. Someone is going to teach this stuff. The question is, what will administrators who are fully aware of the school districts responsibilities do to protect their teachers from these harms.
In Dietrich, the answer is, “Not a lot.”