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Letter from the Editor

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I remember when Betty Parker got pregnant in our senior year of high school. Her last name wasn't really Parker, but the fact that her first name was Betty will give you an idea of how long ago this was. They aren't naming baby girls Betty anymore.

Betty got "knocked-up," as we used to say, by a football player. We knew this because it was a small-town Midwestern high school where everybody knew everybody's business. And evidence of actual sex taking place among our friends was big news, since most of us could only imagine such a thing in theory. (Some of my classmates imagined every day. Or so I've heard.)

Betty went away in October and never returned to school, though she did reportedly graduate from a school for "wayward mothers." The child was given up for adoption, and Betty went on to college and, as far as I know, has had a "normal" life since.

Pregnant girls weren't allowed to stay in school back in those days. We studied Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter in English class, and as far as girls like Betty were concerned, things hadn't changed much from the Puritan era. Her name might as well have been Hester Prynne. The father, on the other hand, stayed in school, and though his reputation took a hit, he still got to wear his letter jacket. It had a scarlet "M" on it, for the record.

How things have changed. If there were a school for "wayward mothers" in Memphis, it would probably be one of the larger schools in the system. A couple of weeks ago, it was famously reported by a local television station that there were 90 pregnant girls at Frayser High School. That number has since been disputed by Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash, but he was unable or unwilling to state a different number. And so, the "90 girls pregnant at one Memphis high school" meme has become a scarlet letter of sorts for the city, as the national media jumped all over the story.

If nothing else, the recent publicity may have stirred up enough people so that the problem will get the attention it deserves. "Babies making babies," Cash called it. He's right. But he has the power to make a significant change: The schools need a realistic, system-wide, sex education program rather than the inconsistent approach we now have, where each school sets its own curriculum. Time to get it done.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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