Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stay Away from Bootleg Liquor and Peroxide Blonds

My class has been reading Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None and since it was written in the 1930's we have been listening to some period music while they work and read. The lovely title of this post is a lyric from one of those songs and it just tickled me. It seems sage advice to me :) Who wouldn't come take a gander at a post with a title like that. In reality the line has little to do with the focus of my post except maybe the lesson of "think about the consequences of your choices".

The story I would like to tell is that of one of my students, we will call her Marie. Marie is 17 and a sophomore in high school. Marie lives with her mother and two older sisters, father is MIA. Marie lives with her mother and two older sisters in a two bedroom apartment and oh, I didn't mention, Marie's sister both have two children. So Marie lives in a two bedroom apartment with her mother, two older sisters, four nieces and nephews and wait let's add, Marie just had her own baby boy a month ago. So, have you kept track? I might have to double check my math but I believe the final count is 9!

What to say, what to say? Marie is bright and capable, not a honors student , but bright. With determination she could have reached for a dream and even the dream simply to escape her current existence could have been possible. She could have escaped it and made a life for herself, but the escape she chose was to have a baby and apparently it is not turning out as she expected. Go figure.

Teenage pregnancy, for me it is an issue that takes me into so many different directions, many see it as a failure on the part of the girl but I see mainly as a failure on the part of our culture. I would imagine before the wide availability of birth control devices many teen pregnancies were very much accidents. I am not sure that is the case anymore. Teenagers are smart cookies and are well aware what is available to them. They know what condoms are and what they are for, places like Planned Parenthood and their resources are also not unfamiliar. Now don't get me wrong, there is still quite a bit of misinformation about pregnancy among teenagers and many listen to myths as truth, but I feel this is the minority and could be remedied with more comprehensive sex education. Yet despite knowledge (if not vague knowledge) of the biology of pregnancy many girl's still end up pregnant and here is Texas it is many, many girls as we have now have the highest rate in the country.

In my ten years of teaching I have averaged about one girl a year who is pregnant and about girl a year who already has a child. That number may seem small but remember I am only a sample of the population. I am one teacher among a staff of 200. I teach at a suburban school. that serves a diverse population with about 30/30/30 mix of various minorities and about a 20-30% population considered low-economic. Of those 10-20 girls, not one came from what most people would consider stable homes. The majority of them had no fathers at home and most of their families struggled economically.

Recently curiousity led me to record The Pregnancy Pact which recently aired on Lifetime television. Usually the Lifetime films I watch remain my guilty secret known only between me and my husband who is sworn to secrecy, but I was so impressed with Lifetime's accurate portrayal of the motives of teenage girls who find themselves pregnant. I was so impressed that I sought out other teachers and asked them if they had seen it. They had been equally impressed commenting, " It really showed the deluded reasons these girls get pregnant." That movie matched my and their experience with teenage pregnancy. These girls want someone to love them,whether is the baby or the boyfriend. They have a fantasy that a baby will somehow magically provide them stability and a home or provide them an excuse to avoid tough decisions. Why is graduation important when I have a baby to take care of? As long as I am a good mother does it matter if I finish school or pursue my goals?

This was Marie. She thought she was going to be able to move in with her boyfriend and he would take care of her, but apparently her boyfriend's mother doesn't want her and the baby to move in. The mother is not only taking care of her son and his siblings but also some of her grandchildren. So now Marie is in a tight spot. She lives in hell with a newborn. She discovering it is tough to get up early and get the baby ready and to daycare and herself to school. She isn't sleeping at night (really, who could) and she is depressed and wants to drop out.

So why do I see as a failure on the part of culture because despite "progress" in breaking down barriers we still have so many girls (and boys) who can't overcome the loneliness of their exsistence due to the lack of stable families. They bring more children into this world who now have a higher risk of suffering the same fate. My students bring their babies up to school (and they are adorable !!) and I cannot help but smile but a part of me inside cries because these babies now have a higher chance of becoming teen parents themselves and a higher chance of not graduating high school and I feel so helpless because I don't know the answer to their plight.