I first saw the word “AIDS” on the cover of Time from August 12, 1985. I was eight years old and had no idea what AIDS was or what I was seeing in that cover photo, but it seemed important. A few months later, I’d see a story about Rock Hudson dying of the disease on Entertainment Tonight; again, I still didn’t know what it was but since the program about movie stars was taking the time to report about it, it seemed important. Three years later, I’d learn quite a bit more in my fifth grade class when my class took part in the first wave of AIDS education that was attached to the Family Life Curriculum that our district had introduced that year.
This Family Life Curriculum–which was basically a series of filmstrips featuring rather sterile-looking diagrams of human reproductive systems and dull narration about our growing bodies and how a baby is made punctuated by loud beeps that told us when to go to the next frame–was pretty controversial when it was introduced in my district, or at least that’s the impression I got in 1988. There were at least a few meetings that the district held to introduce the curriculum to parents, and I remember that my sister’s friend was not allowed to go to school on those days because her mother–a born-again Christian–would not allow her to take part in sex ed. To be honest, the sex stuff was pretty tame and the only reason it really had an impact on me was that I would wind up studying human reproduction every year for the next three years courtesy of Family Life, then science and health classes.
But the AIDS lesson had a little bit more of an impact. By the time I was in the fifth grade, the disease had received much more media coverage and there was a solid push for AIDS awareness to help stem the public health crisis. In fact, the education I received at the hands of my public school about AIDS was incredibly thorough–we even had an “AIDS Awareness Day” in school two years in a row. That was not without its share of drama (apparently one teacher decided to take 45 minutes to preach from the Bible and talk about the evils of homosexuals) or boredom (a presentation of pieces of the AIDS quilt is fascinating, but when it rolls on for more than an hour, you get a little restless), but I have to say that by the time I was a senior I had raised money for and participated in three LIAAC AIDS Walks, and really felt prepared for when I would start having sex (read: I bought the strongest condoms they made). Read the rest of this entry »