This really happened. Or maybe it didn’t. I can’t really be sure in this age of punitive scrutiny and politically dictated appropriateness and subject matter.
Teacher: Two things about Beowulf that are really great…
Ricky: Nothing about Beowulf is really great.
Gabbi: I like Beowulf! He’s kinda stuck up, but he brings it! It ain’t just braggin’ if you can kick some dragon ass!
Teacher: Right. Two things about Beowulf that are really great are the vivid imagery and the diction.
Javier: Suck my diction!
Maira: What is diction?
Teacher: Diction is word choice. It is the author’s chance to use the one specific word out of all the words that there are to say exactly what she or he means. Mark Twain said it is “the difference between the lightning bug and the the lightning.” The right words can change “Girl – you wanna be my boo?” to “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach…”
Ricardo: What the hell does that mean?
Gabbi: It’s like the difference between ‘sperm’ and ‘cum’.
Teacher: Wow! I totally did not see that coming!
Javier: That’s what she said!
Maira: What is the difference between ‘sperm’ and ‘cum’?
The room grows eerily quite as all eyes turn to the teacher, who is a strange shade of fuschia and squirms uncomfortably on a desk at the front of the room. She looks around. All eyes are watching her expectantly. Very few of the students are smiling. They look curious.
Teacher: Ummm…’sperm’ are small cells with tiny tails that are produced in males and swim through the male and female reproductive systems to fertilize the egg and begin the process that results in a baby. The correct, more appropriate term for ‘cum’ is ‘semen’. Semen is sperm and the fluid it swims in.
Shillay: Why they gotta swim?
Javier: What do you expect them to do? Take the bus?
Shillay: Why they gotta have fluid?
Teacher: They need the fluid to get through the male’s body into the female’s.
Blank stares all around.
Maira: Where do they come from?
Trey: It’s called ‘semen’!
Maira: Where do they semen from?
Teacher: Huh. Again, unexpected. The semen are produced in the man’s testicles…
Javier: Huevos! Balls! Nads! Junk! Nuts!
Teacher: …and then they swim in this fluid that acts like …well, a river. They go through this little tube called the ‘vas deferens’ and into the man’s…
Teacher: Penis; it’s called a penis. Then the sperm go into the woman, still in the liquidid and through her fallopian tubes, where one of them connects with the egg and fertilizes it to start a baby.
Silence, again. Perhaps the students are shocked because the teacher said “penis”. Twice. The teacher is feeling like maybe, in this era of budget cuts and teaching only towards state mandated tests, she has said way too much.
Finally, the silence is broken.
Gabi: Why is the cum – I mean semen- why is the semen white?
Teacher: Wow. I mean…wow!
Miguel is very quiet. He sits in the back of the room with his head down. He does not raise his head or his voice, but the class is shocked into such quiet that everyone hears him when he mumbles:
Miguel: Glucose. Like frosting on a cake. Definitely glucose.
This seems to be a good stopping place for this discussion, the teacher thinks. A nice, definitive answer and we move on from this teachable moment and retread the path students have tread since the 8th century: the analysis of Beowulf.
Melissa has not spoken thus far in the conversation, though she is usually a Chatty Cathy; or perhaps, more appropriately, a Mellifluous Melissa.
Melissa: See, that’s why we need sex education!
Javier: Why? So we know why sperm is white?
Good point, Javi, the teacher thinks. Perhaps this whole off-topic conversation has been an exercise in the ridiculous. We wasted all of this time, and really, what is the take-away from it? A good teacher knows when to redirect. A professional knows when to get the point and not be overwhelmed by surprise an the niave notion that every question deserves an answer.
Melissa: Shut up, Javi! I’ve had two babies and I didn’t know the difference between ‘sperm’ and ‘cum’! I didn’t know there was a “vast difference”! It matters! It really matters! By now I should know it all!
Good point, Melissa. Old enough to ask, old enough to know.