Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sex in the Classroom

Early on in my teaching career I was attempting to discuss the events that gradually led up to the Civil War. My textbook at the time gave a heavy emphasis to slavery and did not mention the whole scope of events that led us down the path of war. I wanted my students to see how our growing nation was a cause to the war. Once the United States embarked on adding territory and new states to the Union sectionalism was inevitable. So I mentioned the word sectionalism in class. Immediately I had embarrassed looks, averted eyes, and a titter here and a guffaw there. “Oh my,” I thought. “What did I say?”

I continued talking. I showed students maps. I gave a nice explanation of sectionalism. I connected the word to another word we had learned earlier in the year…regionalism. Still, every time I said the word sectionalism students sat up straighter, had funny looks on their faces, and were finally at the point of a major meltdown. I gave up. “Ok, what’s going on?” I asked.

One young man bravely volunteered. “Mrs. Historyteacher, are you saying the Civil War was caused by sex?”

“Sex! Sex? When did I say sex?” I frantically searched my mind picturing myself as the lead story on the five o’clock news.

Everyone agreed at this point. “Yes, you said sex.”

“Yep, I head it.”

“How can sex cause a war?”

I thought that an explanation of Helen of Troy and the problems she caused would be inappropriate at the time, so I finally asked a dependable young man to tell me exactly what he heard.

“Well, you said sexionalism was a cause to the Civil War.”

So, it finally dawned on me what I had done wrong and I quickly backtracked to correct my error. I learned that day that when you introduce new vocabulary words to students that might sound like another word it would be most helpful to write the vocabulary word on the board before you begin to speak, and while you are speaking it, it would also be beneficial to walk by the word occasionally and point to it for emphasis.

I posted on sectionalism a bit more at the American Presidents Blog. Take a visit there and learn a little about the Election of 1824. There's also a great post there titled "White House...and Internet...Phantoms" that is very interesting.


Anonymous said...

Maybe sex did cause the Civil War!

This is a very amusing story and one I will share with my reference librarians. We "mishear" reference questions sometimes with equally amusing results.

Dan Edwards said...

I know THAT never ceases to amaze me when I hear what some students THINK they heard...... such as a student who once announced to the class that a picture in the textbook showing a bust of Augustus Caesar didn't look anything like the "busts" he'd seen in a magazine at home......

Good teaching tip for young teachers reading your blog!

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kontan said...

HAHA! OMG, my students did the same thing this past week, well before break. We're finishing up the Civil War now with headline activities. I have kids very interested in the scandals of the time. Hope they now understand sectionalism and don't include it!

Anonymous said...

i heard the same thing in history class one year and everybody giggeld.

EHT said...

Sam, I think I would have to giggle too. :)

DesertSurfer said...

I run into this every year in my 4th quarter when I star teaching biology and I have to cover the concept of "organism".

Several of my students have had Freudian moments when they read their answer and pronounce it "orgasm" (okay, I cannot pass the full blame on, I did it once myself).

Yes, try saying "orgasm" in front of thirty-five hormonally challenged teenagers. We always end up laughing out loud.

EHT said...

Yes, organism is a tricky word with teenagers. Funny thing though....maybe I was just incredibly naieve in middle and early high school....While I knew what an orgasm was I didin't refer to it as such and wouldn't have used the word to describe it.

Also, I have found like you that it is best to just tackle these things with kids (who seem to know it all nowadays)with humor and naturalness. It is the stuff of life. :)

slanted.enchanted said...

Oh wow. I had the same thing happen to me, but as I'm new to this and it wasn't too long ago that I was in their shoes.... I did as you mentioned; first wrote the term on the board then explained the origin of the word (section!)and it's meaning.
I had an equal blast explaining the definition of "dike" in Western Civ.

Ginger Snaps said...

That's really funny!

Paul Swendson said...

Did you ever talk about sexcession?