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Stories from school and college

This Stuff Only Happens On TV… And NAR

, , , , , | Learning | April 29, 2022

I’m a biology teacher at a high school. Back when I was a much newer teacher, we had reached the point of learning about genetics and Punnett squares, which are used to show how dominant and recessive genes will be inherited from parents to children. Usually, the second most common example used for these — next to Mendel’s original example with peas — is eye color. However, I didn’t like this because it’s not accurate; eye color is actually controlled by sixteen different genes and is more complex than simple Punnett squares can handle.

Thus, I decided to use blood type as an example for our Punnett squares. It’s a slightly more complicated example, due to A and B types being codominant, but at least it doesn’t require lying to students.

Then, one day, a girl came up to me before the start of class.

Student: “Mr. [My Name], I think I’m doing the squares wrong.”

Me: “What’s the problem?”

Student: “My dad is AB and my mom is A, but I’m O. I can’t make the squares work.”

Me: “Oh, yes, that wouldn’t usually work. Are you certain you have everyone’s blood types right?”

Student: “Yeah, I asked them last night.”

Me: “Oh, I see.”

Student: “An AB parent can have an O kid, right?”

There was a hint of anxiety behind this question, as if she was pleading with me to tell her they could.

The answer — as I found out only after I was put on the spot with this question and Googled it — was that it is possible but exceptionally rare for this to happen. Still, even if I didn’t know that for certain yet, I knew there were usually exceptions to most genetic rules of thumb, so I hedged a little.

Me: “Usually not, but genetics are strange; there are always mutations or unusual recombination happening, so most of the stuff we teach in genetics is how things usually work, not a promise it will always be that way. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are times when AB parents have O children.”

Student: “But how often does that happen?”

Me: “I’m not really certain.”

Student: “But is it common?”

Me: “I don’t think it’s common, but it could happen.”

The student was quiet for a bit while thinking, looking increasingly worried. Eventually, she spoke up again.

Student: “What about eye color? Brown is dominant, right?”

The girl had brown eyes.

Me: “Eye color is more complicated since it’s controlled by many genes; Punnett squares don’t really work with them.”

Student: “So, brown really isn’t dominant?”

Me: “It kind of is. If you have one parent with blue eyes and one with brown, you’re more likely to end up with brown eyes, but it doesn’t always happen that way.”

Student: “But parents with blue eyes can have a brown-eyed daughter?”

Me: “Yes, definitely!”

Student: “Okay, good. Is that common?”

Me: “Well, it’s not exactly common, but it definitely can and does happen. I’m afraid I don’t know the exact odds without looking it up.”

Student: “Oh, okay. Thank you.”

She still looked worried and a bit dejected as she wandered back to her seat. I was not at all happy with how the conversation had gone, but I couldn’t think of anything else I could say or do, other than lying to her, to make things better, so I had to just leave things be and get on with starting class.

The next Monday, I saw the student again. She was looking very upset while looking at me as if she couldn’t decide whether to approach me or not.

Me: “[Student], are you okay?”

Student: “No! You were right!”

Me: “Right about what?”

She looked like she was considering answering, but she glanced around the classroom that was starting to fill with students, some of whom were clearly interested in our discussion in front of the class.

Student: “I don’t want to talk about it here.”

Of course, I respected that, but I found her to talk in private later. It turns out the man who raised her was not her biological father after all. He had fertility issues, and in the end, his brother ended up donating sperm for them to get pregnant, but they had never told their daughter. The blood types not adding up was the thing that made my student start thinking, but ultimately, she had come up with lots of other things, like eye color, that didn’t quite add up, and so she had decided to confront her parents during the weekend. They admitted the truth when she confronted them.

She was very upset at having this hidden from her, especially since, apparently, her biological father had moved to another country shortly after she was born, so she barely knew anything about him. I did my best to reassure her and remind her that anyone who cared for and loved her all her life was her real father, regardless of genetics, but she was less concerned about that and more about feeling like she had been lied to her entire life.

She would eventually come to accept the news, but not until she had time to deal with her feelings and emotions. As for me, I decided that I wasn’t going to be teaching any blood type-related Punnett squares after that year. I’ll still sometimes use the old standard of eye color but only after stressing that it’s an oversimplification. I figure, that way, if I ever have a brown-eyed student asking why their parents are both blue-eyed again, I can at least honestly say that is a real possibility and that I had already warned them we were oversimplifying eye color. I’d prefer not to be the cause of any more children getting unpleasant realizations.

That Was My First Thought, Too, Honestly

, , , , , | Learning | April 27, 2022

I’m teaching a unit on the Winter Olympics.

Second-Grader: “What’s biathlon?”

Me: “It’s a combination of skiing and shooting.”

The student’s eyes go wide.

Me: “Not at the same time!”

Two Little Words Go A Long Way

, , , , | Learning | April 26, 2022

We had a new art teacher in fifth grade who was one of my favorite teachers. Even barring that, she was cool, and we spent a whole week or two doing kumihimo — a form of Japanese braiding. I still do it if I’m anxious.

At the end of the school year, she baked and brought in brownies with sprinkles and purple frosting for the class and went around the classroom of around thirty students passing them out. The classroom was seated in alphabetical order, and at the time, I was one of the last students in that class.

A lot of the kids had friends in the class, but I was cripplingly shy and preferred to do my own thing, so I was perhaps the only person who was actively drawing or doodling while everyone else was talking to their friends during the brownie party.

The teacher came around and offered me the brownie tray.

Me: “Thank you!”

The teacher stopped and stared at me for a few seconds.

Teacher: “What did you just say?”

I couldn’t read her expression, and my parents were strict, so I instantly got nervous that I’d done something wrong.

Me: “Um… thank you?”

The teacher then straightened up.

Teacher: “Hey, everybody. I’ve been passing out brownies this whole time, and [My Name]’s been the only one to say, ‘Thank you!’”

Everyone: *Chorus* “Thank you!”

Teacher: “Too late. [My Name], you get an extra one for being so polite.”

I thanked her again and spent the rest of that period eating both brownies. At the time, I was very embarrassed about being hailed in front of the ENTIRE class, but now that I’m older, I kind of feel bad for my teacher. I was at the second-to-last table, and tables seated only four people. Out of almost thirty students and after at least five tables, I was apparently the first and only person to say, “Thank you.”

The Real Inspiration For That Netflix Show

, , , , | Learning | April 25, 2022

This is the story about someone who I’ll call my friend for convenience, though honestly, I’m not sure I deserve to call him that. I’d known him since elementary school, but he was always just a bit different. I never heard that he was neurodiverse or anything; he just didn’t try to fit in. He spoke with a very mild speech impediment and was always sticking his nose in a book, even walking through the halls reading, somehow not running into anyone in the crowded halls while doing it.

He flat-out said, on more than one occasion, that he thought all of us were doing lots of foolish things just to fit in and he wasn’t going to do something that didn’t make sense to him just to seem normal.

Needless to say, he was never the most popular person in school, and as such, I’m ashamed to admit that I also somewhat shunned him at first. But one year, he ended up sitting next to me in one of our classes and in the cafeteria, so I got to know him better and found out he could be quite funny and enjoyable to hang out with. Sadly, I was too worried about popularity to properly call him my friend back then.

This story starts in health class, where we were getting your standard abstinence-only sex-ed spiel. During one of the last days, I remember thinking the teacher was rushing through class a bit more than usual, not giving as much time for questions and such. I didn’t know why until the end of the class when she asked if anyone had questions and immediately called on my friend.

My friend stood up.

Friend: *Very quickly* “Teachers here aren’t allowed to teach about birth control, but that doesn’t stop students!”

He then went into what was clearly a well-practiced, rapid tallying-off of the most important details about birth control in the short time left in class, ending with:

Friend: “I can explain more during lunch if anyone wants to know, and I also have condoms that I will provide to anyone to asks for them.”

While never officially saying so, he pretty strongly implied that he had already arranged things with our teacher to have enough time in class to go over everything.

Since I sat near him at lunch, I saw people coming to him for questions. At first, they all seemed to be there out of perverse curiosity and as a joke rather than wanting actual information, but my friend ignored their humor and gave them real information. Eventually, word got around and he got some more serious people showing up. Mostly, they were just there for the free condoms, but any time he gave them to someone new, he insisted on giving them “the talk” first.

His talk wasn’t just about the use of birth control but also stressing consent and saying that anyone who would bully someone into sex when they weren’t ready or having unsafe sex clearly didn’t care about that person’s emotional well-being and, as such, was not a good person and didn’t deserve to have sex with, or even be dating, the person they were pressuring. My friend even offered some advice on how to go about sex in a manner that would please everyone, though he rarely was taken up on this.

Oddest of all, though, was that my friend vocally declared himself to be a virgin and committed to staying a virgin for at least the rest of that year, with his repeating both claims and promises the subsequent year. He explained that while he was trying to ensure those that chose to have sex did it safely, he also didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to have sex to fit in, and he figured letting people know he was a virgin and he didn’t mind that fact may help lower the pressure on others to lose their virginity.

Of course, some mocked him for this, and more than once it was implied that his information was useless because, “What does a virgin know about sex?” His response was that he knew how to use Google and ask wiser adults, that it didn’t take a genius to understand the basic use of birth control, and the fact that there were so many unplanned pregnancies in teens demonstrated that having sex clearly wasn’t enough to make one an expert on birth control.

There was one memorable time later in the year when two men who had jokingly harassed my friend a little in the past for his sex-ed campaign were being a bit more persistent, telling him he was a virgin because no one would ever have sex with him. He eventually got fed up with it and pointed out that he was now well known as a man who not only knew how to have safe sex but also advocated consent and ensuring that a woman gets plenty of pleasure from the act, and that can be tempting to quite a few women. The fact that he was a sworn virgin was just more tempting to certain women, as if he was playing hard to get, and he had frankly gotten more than a few implicit offers to help “remedy” his virgin status whenever he decided he was ready. He then went on to point out that those women were polite enough to accept a no and understood the importance of consent, unlike certain individuals.

Eventually, rules were passed about not congregating around lunch tables that weren’t assigned to you, ostensibly to avoid cluttering the cafeteria, but they seemed to be selectively enforced only when someone came to my friend for information or condoms.

Almost immediately after this, my friend came to me with an odd request.

Friend: “Can you put a bowl of candy above your locker? I’ll provide the bowl, the candy, and a little note asking people to please only take two per day. All you have to do is put it out.”

Me: “Why?”

Friend: “I’ll let you know soon enough. It isn’t anything bad, and it might even amuse you.”

I was confused, but still, free candy is tempting, so I agreed. He had one or two others also put out free candy.

It was two weeks later that the reason for his madness became clear when he put out his own bowl — filled with condoms instead of candy.

Apparently, the principal of the school was very unhappy about the open discussion and supposed “encouragement” of sex. He had tried to get my friend to stop without success.  He had even called [Friend]’s parents only to find out that they fully supported him; they were the ones driving him to a free clinic to get all the condoms he was passing out! The whole “no congregating in the cafeteria” rule was an attempt to indirectly curtail my friend while skirting the issue with free speech.

And, as my friend suspected, the moment he put out the condom bowl, he was dragged back into the principal’s office to be asked to stop doing it.

To this, he pled freedom of speech. He pointed out that they had no problem with bowls of free stuff being put out since they said nothing about the candy, so obviously, they were just trying to shut down his sharing condoms. He threatened that his family would sue if they tried to stop him from distributing condoms. Honestly, he wasn’t sure if they could win such a case, but they would make the fight very public, going to the news and all, which would ultimately leave the school and principal looking pretty terrible regardless of the final legal ruling.

It apparently worked because the free condom bowl stayed out and the school stopped trying to silence him so blatantly. Though, sadly, he stopped providing me with free candy once his point had been made.

I still can’t say my friend was popular in the traditional sense, but he did become very well known in school. He may not do things the “normal” way, but I have to say I approved of his way of doing things, even if the principal apparently hated him for it.

Well, She Made ONE Good Decision

, , , , , | Learning | April 23, 2022

I am a taxi driver picking up my first fare of the day. I pick up a lady in her forties going to the local tafe — think community college for those Americans. She seems a little off but polite enough.

Halfway through the job:

Lady: “Actually, can we stop at [Bottleshop]?”

Me: “Sure, I can stop there, but it’s the other way from [Tafe].”

Lady: “Yeah, that’s fine. I really need a bottle of [Cheap Wine].”

I stop. She gets out and staggers inside, while I contemplate this lady already drunk at 10:00 am and buying more alcohol to drink at [Tafe]. She returns after a few minutes. She opens the bottle, takes a big gulp of it, and then gets back in the taxi.

Lady: “It’s okay, I know not to drink in the cab. Now to [Tafe].”

We get almost to the tafe.

Lady: “You know what? I don’t think I should go.”

Me: “Oh, okay. It’s up to you.”

Lady: “Yeah, I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’m drunk.”

Me: “Fair enough. So, where to now?”

Lady: “[Pickup address], please.”

I drive her home. All in all, it cost her $60 for a $13 bottle of wine. And she leaves me with this:

Lady: “Yeah, I think it’s a good idea to stay home. Wouldn’t want the students getting the wrong idea now.”

She staggered inside and I was a little dumbfounded.