Science Squares and Sex Education

punnett3Why is it that everything I seem to be reading in the headlines lately about educators is, well, none too heartening. This story made me guffaw, albeit in a “you’ve got to be kidding me” kind of way. In Henrico County, Virginia, at Harry F. Byrd Middle School, a grade 7 teacher put a new twist on punnet squares. Do  remember punnet squares? Science teachers use them to explain very basic genetics, 101. They look like little tic tac toe boards, except rather than playing with X’s and O’s, physical characteristics are written into the squares to determine the odds of a living organism inheriting certain characteristic. Punnets don’t just apply to humans. They can apply to animals and plants. Anyhoo.

The example I included in the blog shows the genetic contribution from both a mother and father for a child. Let’s assume the B means brown eyes and the b means blue eyes. The punnet results suggest that if these two people have a child, the odds of it having either brown or blue eyes are 50%. The capital B suggests that this trait is dominant and the small b suggests that this trait is (no, not submissive – stop that, you) recessive – that is, where you see the Bb, the child is supposedly destined to have brown eyes, since brown is a dominant colour over blue (at least it is in this punnet).

Of course this is far too simplistic to truly explain the how and why of genetics, but it’s the very beginning step in explaining genetic inheritance to children. This teacher wrote a scenario on a science test for her/his 12-year-old students and included this question:

“One of Opal’s children is born with shocking red hair. Is Orville the father of this child? But wait, Opal swear she has been faithful and claims that the hospital goofed and got her baby mixed with another. Is this a plausible explanation?”

homework4-1Seriously. The teacher might as well have written “Opal had sex with another man and is trying to avoid a divorce by insisting her child was switched with another child at the hospital.” For all intents and purposes (and I don’t really know what the purpose is here – maybe to stir up suspicion in some of the school community’s married families) that is what the teacher presented to her or his students.

Of course it wasn’t long before a parent, Patricia Galvan, contacted the school. “I was appalled, I was very bothered by it. I’m now having to explain to my child about being unfaithful, why do I have to explain that to my 12-year-old?”

Hold on, it gets better. Galvan’s son’s class was given a social studies assignment where they had to research a character from the 1920s and speed date with other class members. The students also had to make a fake Match.com profile. Say what? I guess the social studies teacher never heard the names Jeffrey Marsalis or Wade Ridley. So, the teacher’s approach was to first teach children about sexual infidelity, then introduce them to Match.com.

Maybe the teacher should have used Ashley Madison in the curriculum instead.

 

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