One of my all-time favorite poems was written by a genius named Robert Fulghum, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.” The poet starts out with this first verse:
Most of what I really need To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sand pile at Sunday school.”Well, the poem is a classic and has been read millions of times by just as many people – most of whom remember the closing lines the best:“ … When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
That kind of prose resonates with me.
I understand it and I embrace it. But in the Great State of Tennessee, our kindergarteners are now just a governor’s signature away from never being able to hold hands with one another ever again. As of Monday afternoon, our legislature had passed what is being called a bill that would prohibit any form of what some moron might interpret as “gateway sexual activity” in our schools and it will soon become a law.
In the first place the vaguely-worded bill is laughable. Pundits all across America – most notably Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert – have already had a delicious romp with Senate Bill 3310, which defines "gateway sexual activity" as "sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior," though the term "sexual contact" is not defined in the bill.
According to the Nashville Tennessean, the bill “would require all state sexual-education classes to ‘exclusively and emphatically’ promote abstinence while banning teachers from promoting any form of ‘gateway sexual activity’.” That stated, there is no mention anywhere in SB 3310 that is specific on exactly what “gateway” sexual activity is and, other than assure the most boring and ridiculous classes ever taught in Tennessee schools, our terribly mystified teachers are now charged with policing the dumbest law in modern-day America.
Any fool knows abstinence is a great idea, but, realistically in today’s society, it ain’t never going to work without a strong Christian faith, which is still illegal to display in our schools. Study after study has proven abstinence is a pipedream, but the huge Republican base of state legislators, pandering to the Christian Right during an election year, obviously want to legislate morality at a time when “Fifty Shades of Grey” (a book on sexual fantasy and bondage) has been the No. 1 best-seller on the New York Times list for two months. Are you kidding me? Do you think our kids live in monasteries?
From what I can gather, the bill was largely written by a former state senator from Chattanooga, David Fowler, who is now the head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee. His group, which I honestly admire, believes abstinence is the best answer to our burgeoning social problems, something I honestly don’t think is practical.
According to Tom Humphrey, who covers the legislature for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, things got a little heated as the bill was being discussed. “The most impassioned speech,” wrote Humphrey, “came from Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, who said he knew of one school where 70 teenage girls were unwed and pregnant and colleagues were being ‘arrogant and aloof’ to suggest legislators should not act to change things. “Everyone in this room knows what gateway sexual activity is," the Knoxville writer quoted DeBerry, “contending that leaving teens -- many without good parents -- to follow their natural inclinations without classroom guidance has left the state to care for thousands of abused or neglected children.”
Now let’s see … the kids get to school at 8 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m. That leaves about two-thirds of the day for those “natural inclinations” to get a grip. Believe it or not, that’s just what it was like 50 years ago when I was there. And, looking back at almost a half-century ago, there were some late afternoons when – you betcha’ – I got a little involved in gateway kind of stuff. No, not the “Fifty Shades of Grey” variety (I can’t stand to get hit or handcuffed) but, trust me, that “gateway stuff” has been going on ever since barns had haylofts and any legislator who argues otherwise is a phony. And probably a hypocrite to boot.