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One often hears people lamenting the fact that primary and secondary school teachers are underpaid and under-respected compared to their university counterparts. The argument is persuasive: grade school and high school teachers are reaching kids at the most dynamic stages in their developmental process, thus the education and example they receive has the greatest impact, for better or worse. So why not require more training from schoolteachers than from professors, and why not give them at least an equal dose of money and prestige? In the trucking industry, drivers who carry fragile, volatile or dangerous materials make considerably more than their stable loadcarrying peers; education could be the same way, and anyone who has worked closely with nitroglyceral teenagers knows what I'm talking about. A few of my college professors made some kind of impact on my life, but they had it easy; I was knocking on the door of adulthood by the time I made their acquaintance, and I came looking to learn. Whereas the two early teachers who helped make me who I am today had a lot to overcome: Mr. Bully, who would throw candy to any of us seventh graders who could point out the gerunds in a New York Times article, and Mr. Stoia, who taught us A.P. seniors that literature is the vehicle for ideas, not for plots, and helped us to understand how beautiful those ideas could be. Unlike the impatient placeholders who were more interested in teaching discipline than understanding, great teachers do what no professor can ever do: bring the wisdom of age to people who are hellbent on rejecting the adult world.
The same can be said of writers in the Young Adult genre, who struggle, like high school teachers, to be given the respect they deserve. Yet their impact can hardly be overstated. For one example among many, there's a generation of women who took many of their formative images of sex from the pages of Judy Blume. Even as a boy growing up in the Midwest, I got some sex tips, or at least some arousal, reading Then Again, Maybe I Won't. (Thinking back now, I would always read it by flashlight in my closet!) But while most parents would probably be more comfortable seeing young Janie reading Young Adult novels than something like Nerve, Blume is famous for infusing her tender teen tales with a lot of raunch. Blume's work in sex education through her novels was singularly progressive for her time, though there are a number of ideas that girls might have been better off without. The passage below, from her famous Forever, is a case in point. Boys naming their dicks? Anything you do feels good? Not what I'd teach in Men 101. (In fact, whenever I get asked now if my dick has a name, I say: You mean, The Burden?). But even if we would tinker with some of the particulars, Blume was pointing in the right direction. So here it is, just back from Memory Lane, the most dog-eared scene from what might well be the most popular and influential teen sex handbook in America.
From Forever by Judy Blume
I got into bed and waited. In a few minutes Michael opened my door. He was wearing his same blue pajamas. He kind of waved at me and said "Hi."
"Hi," I answered.
He put his glasses on the night table, turned out the light and climbed into bed beside me. After we'd kissed for awhile he took off his pajama top, then said, "Let's take yours off too . . . it's in the way."
I slipped my nightgown over my head and dropped it to the floor. Then there were just my bikini pants and Michael's pajama bottoms between us. We kissed again. Feeling him against me that way made me so excited I couldn't lie still. He rolled over on top of me and we moved together again and again and it felt so good I didn't ever want to stop until I came.
After a minute I reached for Michael's hand. "Show me what to do," I said.
"Do whatever you want."
"Help me Michael . . . I feel so stupid."
"Don't," he said, wiggling out of his pajama bottoms. He led my hand to his penis. "Katherine . . . I'd like you to meet Ralph . . . Ralph, this is Katherine. She's a very good friend of mine."
"Does every penis have a name?"
"I can only speak for my own."
In books penises are always described as hot and throbbing but Ralph felt like ordinary skin. Just his shape was different that and the fact that he wasn't smooth, exactly as if there was a lot going on under the skin. I don't know why I'd been so nervous about touching Michael. Once I got over being scared I let my hands go everywhere. I wanted to feel every part of him.
While I was experimenting, I asked, "Is this right?"
And Michael whispered, "Everything's right."
When I kissed his face it was all sweaty and his eyes were half closed. He took my hand and led it back to Ralph, showed me how to hold him, moving my hand up and down according to his rhythm. Soon Michael moaned and I felt him come a pulsating feeling, a throbbing, like the books said then the wetness. Some of it got on my hand but I didn't let go of Ralph.
We were both quiet for a while, then Michael reached for the tissue box by the side of the bed. He passed it to me. "Here . . . I didn't mean to get you."
"That's all right . . . I don't mind . . . " I pulled out some tissues.
He took the box back. "I'm glad," he said, wiping up his stomach.
I kissed the mole on the side of his face. "Did I do okay . . . considering my lack of experience?"
He laughed, then just put his arms around me. "You did just fine . . . Ralph liked it a lot."
© Judy Blume