Tag Archives: high school

What “Daria” Can Teach Us About Educating (Uninterested) Teenagers

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Some shows have one particular episode that you can watch again and again while still enjoying it. Great shows have multiple episodes like that. By that measure, “Daria” is greater than most. Even by the standards of late 90s animation, the show stands out in so many ways. It’s one of those rare shows that has aged remarkably well and feels more relevant now than when it originally aired.

I’ve already praised “Daria” for its unique approach to shedding a critical light on a world full of lies, half-truths, and fake news. I’ve even singled out a single episode for how the show handled a sensitive issue like mental health. These are issues that have only become more relevant since the show went off the air.

In that same spirit, I’d like to highlight another episode from the show that highlights another major issue. It also happens to be my favorite episode and the one I’ve probably re-watched the most. That episode is “Lucky Strike,” the sixth episode of the fifth season. On top of being one of the funniest episodes of the series, it also has some of the shows best moments while still tackling a major issue.

The issue, this time around, is education. It might not be the kind of a hot-button issue that makes for major headlines, but it’s still as relevant as ever, especially if we’re referring to the American education system. It’s not hard to find stories about just how bad it is, especially when compared to how other industrialized countries do it.

It was a big deal in the 90s and early 2000s, as well. Fittingly enough, this episode aired just a few months before the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, which has been the cornerstone of the American education system. While reasonable people can debate how well it has or hasn’t worked, “Daria” has already made one of the most effective arguments about what constitutes good education.

The premise of the episode begins with a teacher strike, an issue that has become distressingly common in recent years. Lawndale High’s notoriously uptight principal, Angela Li, short-changes a group of teachers who are underpaid, under-appreciated, and have to deal with uninterested idiots like Kevin Thompson and Brittney Taylor. By any measure, they have a very good reason to strike.

Never one to concede defeat or express genuine concern for student aptitude, she keeps the school running by hiring substitute teachers, some of which demonstrate limited qualifications at best. One even showed an overtly creepy attraction with one of the female students. This leads to Daria getting roped into teaching a class.

As it just so happens, the class she’s teaching is the same class that her sister and unapologetic popularity whore, Quinn, is in. Given how Quinn has spent almost the entire series denying she’s even related to Daria, it’s a great opportunity to make things awkward. Daria makes more than a few quips about it in her own wonderfully misanthropic way.

However, when it comes to actually teaching the class, Daria does something that sets herself apart from most substitutes. Even if she’s only doing it to mess with her sister, she takes her role seriously. She shows a genuine desire to teach, but she doesn’t use the same approach as the rest of her teachers. She utilizes her own unique way.

It helps that the class is an English class. Daria is a voracious reader. That is established in the first episodes of the series and belabored on multiple occasions. It also helps that the assignment is simple. The class is reading Romeo and Juliet, a story that almost every high school English class reads at some point. In terms of substitute teacher gigs, it’s as standard as it comes.

I remember reading this play in high school as well. I don’t remember it fondly, though. In class, we would just read through each act, do a few assignments in a textbook, and take a test at the end. Most of the time, the test involved multiple choice or short answer. There were only right and wrong answers. That was really all there was to it.

Daria’s approach is different. Daria doesn’t just teach from a textbook. She has the students read the play, but not so they can get the answers for an assignment. She takes the time to help them appreciate it. When one of her air-headed students doesn’t appreciate a particular part, she helps put it into a more relevant context. It doesn’t just work. It makes the story feel like something other than an assignment.

It’s an approach that anyone who loathes standardized tests can appreciate. I’ve made my disdain for standardized tests known before, but it’s not a personal peeve on my part. There is legitimate research that indicates that standardized testing is not a good way to educate kids.

Teaching kids to take a test is not the same as teaching. They’re learning how to memorize answers for a test. That’s not real learning. You can memorize all the answers for a particular test, but not know why those answers are correct. For someone like Daria Morgendorffer, who places a high value on thinking for yourself, this approach just doesn’t work for her.

For everyone else, the test is the only thing that matters. For the always-superficial Quinn, that’s her primary concern. She laments about how her sister might screw her over or worse, undermine her popularity. It’s such a burden that actually reading the play and knowing what it’s about barely registers.

Then, in one of Daria’s finest moments, she further deviates from the traditional educational model and gives her class a simple essay test. There’s no multiple choice or short answer. She just gives them a simple question.

What is Romeo and Juliet about?

That’s it. The only requirement is that they write at least 250 words and support their answer. For those who didn’t care enough to read the play, like Quinn’s equally-superficial posse, the Fashion Club, it’s the worst possible scenario. For Quinn, who actually read the play, it was easy.

In fact, it was because of that test that Quinn also had her finest hour. In one of the few moments of the show in which she’s actually likable, she defends Daria’s approach to teaching to the entire class. Then, in another pivotal moment for the series, she admits that Daria is her sister.

In addition to this critical moment of personal growth, Daria shows that she truly values people who think for themselves. Even when one of her students makes an objectively foolish comment about Romeo and Juliet, she still gives him a good grade because he actually tried to back it up. For her, that’s more valuable than simply knowing the difference between Paris and Tybalt.

Her approach is even appreciated by her students. Keep in mind, these are the same students who show little to no interest in class throughout the show. They are, like most teenagers, not that big on having to be at school for seven hours a day, learning things they don’t want to learn about. Daria understands this and tries to make the class less tedious. It’s something even an air-headed teenager can appreciate.

Most of them, anyway.

It’s also a valuable lesson that has real-world applications. Some places have even applied Daria’s approach, to some extent. Countries like Finland have a system that doesn’t rely so heavily on standardized tests. Not surprisingly, Finland’s education ranking is significantly better than the United States and by a significant margin. Daria would’ve actually fit in with that system.

It’s not just because that system eschews standardized tests. It actually emphasizes teaching a student how to think and reason. A test isn’t going to reveal that. On top of that, teachers are better-educated and well-compensated in places like Finland. They would not have had to strike like the teachers in this episode.

In some respects, Daria showed how much better someone could teach a class if they didn’t have to deal with the constraints of the current system. It even helped that the Principal Li was more focused on outwitting the teacher union than she was with teaching students. Without those constraints, Daria managed to teach a class in a way that her students appreciated.

Between that moment and the moment she shared with her sister, “Lucky Strike” accomplishes a great deal. Daria has a chance to shine and makes the most of it. On top of that, she demonstrates that it is possible to educate a room of disinterested teenagers in a way that’s genuinely effective.

There are many other moments in “Daria” where major complications, and the many absurdities they entail, get cut down by the show’s distinct brand of misanthropic humor. Daria rarely sets out to make big statements, be they about the educations system or our flawed understanding of mental health. However, she still finds a way to make her point and never crack a smile.

That’s why Daria is so lovable. It’s also why we need wisdom like hers more than ever.

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Filed under Current Events, Daria, human nature, psychology, television

How I Lost And Regained My Self-Esteem

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Self-esteem is one of those concepts that has gained a mixed reputation in recent years. To some extent, that reputation is well-earned. We’ve all dealt with people with an inflated ego. Being around them for extended periods can range from frustrating to intolerable. Some have even called the glut of self-esteem and its narcissistic byproducts an epidemic.

Personally, I think that claim is overly hyperbolic. However, I understand the popular sentiment. I was a kid around the time the cracks in the the self-esteem movement really started to show. I sat through many of those classes that espoused the value of self-esteem. I saw all those PSA’s after popular kids shows encouraging kids to believe in themselves no matter what. Even by kid standards, I thought they were cheesy.

At the same time, I was dealing with a lot of personal issues and my self-esteem was often a big part of those issues. I went through periods of my young life when I thought I could do anything. I went through other periods where I thought was a worthless waste of flesh. Going through the rigors of puberty, enduring high school, and dealing with some less-than-ideal health situations certainly didn’t help.

It was worse than this.

In short, I had a lot of self-esteem as a kid. I really believed in myself and I fought hard to affirm that belief. Then, as I became a teenager, I lost my self-esteem. I became a miserable, self-loathing hunk of living misery. I don’t know how I could’ve felt worse about myself. Then, as an adult, I got my self-esteem back and I haven’t let go over it since.

It was a roller coaster ride, to say the least. It wasn’t always a smooth ride and I found many ways to make it harder for myself. The older I get, the more I realize how misguided I was and how much of it was my own doing. I like to think I’ve learned form it. I also think the experience is worth sharing. Hopefully, others can relate. Perhaps, those who struggled like I did can glean lessons I wish I’d learned earlier.

Before I get into the details of this story, I want to make one thing clear. I don’t blame the self-esteem movement that has become so popular to bash.

I don’t blame the schools, either. I grew up in an area where the schools were great, for the most part. By almost any measure, I was lucky. I got an education that many kids in America would envy.

I sure as hell won’t blame my parents and family. In fact, they’re the heroes of this story. They put up with me at times when I was downright insufferable. My mother, my father, and my siblings did all the right things for a kid like me. I’m lucky they were there because things could’ve turned out way worse for me and I have nobody to blame but myself.

To understand where my self-esteem issues began, it’s necessary to understand the kind of kid I was growing up. For the most part, I was pretty normal. However, if there was one trait that set me apart from the other kids, it was how uptight I was.

By that, I don’t just mean I was stressed out by tests and homework. I was the kind of kid who would get anxious and upset if a school bus was late. I always had to be on time. I always had to get things done early. I didn’t procrastinate on anything. That may sound like a useful trait, but the way I went about it made it a liability.

Between being so uptight with timing, I was just as uptight when it came to grades. Anything less than a perfect score was disappointing. I had this mentality where there were only A’s and F’s and nothing in between. Again, this is not something my parents, teachers, or counselors imposed on me. This is something I did to myself.

I held myself to a high standard. I bought into the idea that just believing in yourself was enough to achieve anything. I’d read it in superhero comics. I’d seen it in cartoons. I genuinely believed I was smart and capable at a level that grossly exceeded my actual abilities. Call it inflated self-esteem, if you want. The end result was the same. When you set impossible standards, you set yourself up for inevitable failure.

My parents warned me, as did my siblings and friends. Everybody warned me that I was being too hard on myself. In hindsight, I should’ve listened. I really wish I had because it set me up for some very difficult teen years.

On top of that, this is around the same time I developed a terrible acne problem that plagued me into my 20s. I also developed asthma that made basic exercise or just a typical gym class feel like prolonged torture so on top of having an acne-ridden face, I was also out of shape. It made me extremely self-conscious of my looks and when you’re ready uptight, that’s a bad combination.

Altogether, this hit my self-esteem the same way a flame-thrower hit a wounded fly. I didn’t just lose my confidence. For a while, my sense of self-worth was hanging by the thinnest of threads. It got to a point where I just started randomly insulting myself. It wasn’t a funny kind of self-deprecation, either. My parents and siblings got downright angry with me whenever I did it, but that rarely dissuaded me.

It got bad. For a while, I had a hard time believing it would get much better. I honestly thought my self-esteem was gone and I was destined to be a walking ball of misery. Then, something remarkable happened.

It wasn’t some incredible epiphany, either. As soon as I graduated high school and entered the adult world, I found a new kind of confidence. It didn’t happen overnight, but there was definitely a transition. It started in college, but it only blossomed as I got older and gained more life experience.

I think the catalyst for that change came when I got my first taste of independence. In college, my life wasn’t so micromanaged. I could actually set my own schedule, plan my own day, and make my own choices. Granted, it wasn’t total freedom. I was going to college on my parents’ dollar. However, compared to high school, it was like getting paroled.

In this environment, I learned something critical that I hadn’t learned in high school or from cheesy after school specials. To have self-esteem, it’s not enough to just believe in yourself. You have to work for it. You have to earn that feeling of accomplishment. It’s not easy, but it’s worth doing and by achieving it, you’re going to feel better about yourself, by default.

It also helped that I became much less uptight in college. To some extent, I do blame some of the messages I got in high school. I had been under the impression that if I didn’t get perfect grades in high school, then I would never go to college and I would die poor and lonely. Even if that impression was misguided, it was such a relief to find out my failures in high school did not define me.

That Spanish test I failed in my sophomore year did not ruin my future.

That assignment I botched in my physics class during my Junior year did not decide my fate.

That may not sound like a big deal to most people, but for someone who was as uptight as me, it was eye-opening. It caused me to re-evaluate my approach to personal standards, real achievement, and how I graded myself.

Suddenly, my personal world didn’t seem so dire. There was some room for error. I could make mistakes, learn from them, and be better for it. To my younger self, that concept might as well have been an alien language. I didn’t care about the process. I cared only for the result. I had to learn that appreciating the process helped me work towards those results.

This didn’t just extend to college. It also helped with my personal life and my health. In college, I got my first girlfriend. I actually developed a social life where I made friends, went to parties, and hung out with people. I was still socially awkward. To this day, I’m still behind the curve in that respect. However, I’m light-years ahead of where I was in my youth.

Things really picked up when I started taking care of myself. Instead of just laying around, feeling sorry for myself, I started exercising. I got serious about treating my acne. I sank most of my savings into fixing my eyesight so that I didn’t have to wear thick glasses anymore. In short, I invested in myself. Like any good investment, it didn’t pay off immediately. Over time, though, the results compounded.

Bit by bit, my self-esteem returned. I had to work for it. Whether it was developing better study skills or getting into shape, I actually had to get up in the morning and make a concerted effort. I know it sounds like common sense, but to my younger self, it seemed so hopeless. If I couldn’t achieve everything all at once, then why bother? It was a terrible mindset and one that held me back.

Today, I have the confidence and self-esteem to share this story. I can even look back on those difficult times and laugh at how I acted. Some close family members will even laugh with me, even though I did not make things easy for them. They definitely did their part. They helped keep me from falling too deep into despair. It just took me a while to do my part, as well.

It would be easy for me to make excuses for my struggles. I could’ve blamed the self-esteem movement, misguided teachers, and after school specials that aired in between my favorite cartoon. In the end, they would still be empty. I still made the choices that made me miserable.

I set myself for disappointment and frustration. Nobody was going to come along and fix everything for me. Nothing was going to resolve itself, just by hoping for the best. In the end, my self-esteem was like any other skill or challenge. I had to apply myself. I had to work hard to earn the results I sought. They were hard lessons to learn, but they were worth learning.

I just wished I’d learned them sooner.

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Filed under human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology

My Advice To The Class Of 2019

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This is a wonderful time of year. It’s not just because the summer heat is rolling in, the pools are opening, and ice cream is even more refreshing. For a select handful of young people, it’s the finish line that once seemed so far. At long last, graduation day has arrived. High school is ending. The last pit stop on your way to adulthood is finally behind you.

I know those in college are just as excited, but I would argue that high school graduation is more meaningful. For many kids in their late teens, it’s the first major milestones of their adult life. Finally, the legally required schooling and the rigid structure surrounding it has been fulfilled. Now, they can finally make their own choices about their future.

It’s exciting, scary, nerve-racking, and overwhelming, even for those who have fond memories of high school. I consider those people lucky. I certainly wasn’t one of them. I’ve gone on record as saying that I hated high school. It seems like the older I get, the more reasons I find to justify that hatred.

Some of that experience was my fault. I was an all-around miserable teenager, for the most part. It’s not just that I’m terrible at standardized tests and endured more than a few awkward moments. For me, the entire high school experience felt like one big personal setback. What I learned didn’t feel useful. The skills I really needed were never offered or emphasized.

I suspect others, including a few about to graduate, feel the same way. They’re probably the most eager to put high school behind them and nobody would blame them. To them, I can only offer reassurance and confidence.

It will get better. I know that sounds like bumper sticker philosophy, but it’s true. Life after high school, however miserable it might have been, does get better. Sometimes, it gets better the second after graduation because everything afterwards feels like an improvement. You still have to put in the effort, but it’s definitely worth doing. I can personally attest to that.

However, I don’t just want to speak to those who hated high school, nor do I want to overlook those who had it far worse than me. To those who thrived, grew, and matured over the course of their formative years, this is for you too. To everyone who navigated this strange and chaotic time of their youth, I’d like to offer my perspective and it can be summed up in one simple statement.

The world is an amazing place and you haven’t experienced a fraction of it.

That’s not a criticism. It’s not meant to undercut everything you’ve learned in during your high school education, either. I tell you this to remind you that you’re still young. You’ve been on this ever-evolving world for less than two decades. Look how much has changed in that brief span of time. Can you begin to imagine how much it’ll change two decades from now?

You’re part of that change. It won’t just happen around you. It’ll happen through you. You’re not just kids anymore. By the letter of the law and by the growth you’ve had to this point, you are young adults. You will have a say in how this change manifests. It may not be as large or as small as you prefer, but you will have an influence. At this critical junction of your lives, that’s worth celebrating.

Now, you’re going to hear all sorts of uplifting and encouraging messages in the coming weeks. You’ll also hear a few that are cynical and jaded. At this very moment, you can find excuses to believe that the world is going to Hell and it’s dragging you along for the ride. You can just as easily find excuses to believe the world is getting better and you’ll be among the beneficiaries.

There’s enough information out there to justify any opinion. I’m not going to tell you which you should embrace, but I will urge you to choose your attitude wisely. If you learn nothing else from the encouragements and platitudes of graduation, I hope you learn this. Your choices matter and so does your attitude. It will depend on how you experience the world moving forward.

Make no mistake. There’s a lot to experience. Whether you’re going to college, pursuing a trade, joining the military, or entering the workforce, you have an vast world before you. That world is going to challenge you. At times, it’s going to hurt. You’re going to feel offended, angry, and lost. It’s unavoidable in a world that’s so chaotic, unfair, and complex.

At the same time, it’s full of excitement, wonder, and mystery. Your understanding of the world right now will change and grow immensely in the coming years. You’ll realize how wrong you were about some things and how right you were about others. In the process, you’ll see just how much more there is to experience.

It’ll change you.

It’ll inspire you.

It’ll excite you.

Every generation likes to believe that theirs is the most important in history. While it may seem self-serving, it’s not entirely wrong. That’s because your generation is here. You’re alive now during these incredible times. You’re about to venture into this amazing world in search of your own experiences. That makes your lives, your choices, and your futures all the more impactful.

There’s only so much anyone can offer in terms of advice that every graduating senior can use. My high school experience was unique, as was all of yours. Even if you forget your ability to pass a standardized test or finish an essay at two in the morning, there are some lessons from high school that are worth carrying forward.

For one, don’t limit your perspective. Never assume you or anyone around you has all the answers. Few things in this world adhere to expectations or ideals. There will always be insights, surprises, and revelations that shatter your pre-conceived notions.

Second, embrace the bigger, scarier world before you and its flaws. Your limited life experiences make everything seem daunting. At times, you’ll want to run and hide from it. I encourage you to be bold and run towards it. With the inescapable bad comes the incredibly good. It’s worth experiencing and it’ll show you who you really are.

Finally, don’t feel like you have to go it alone. In the grand scheme of things, it’s easy to feel small. It’s also easy to feel like you have to chart your own path and relying on others is a crutch. I promise you that notion is false. Other people aren’t a liability. They’re a strength that you can and should channel, wherever your lives take you.

We’re all in this together. Young or old, we all inhabit the same world. We all work, struggle, and connect to find our place in it. I like to think I’ve forged an interesting, but meaningful path in my journey. Yes, there are things I wish I had done differently. No, I don’t agonize over them, nor should you.

All that said, I welcome you, the graduating class of 2019, into this amazing world. Today, you’ve taken the first step in a much larger journey. I can’t promise you much, but I will say this. It’s a journey worth taking.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, Uplifting Stories

Lessons From My First (Failed) Crush

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Being a teenager sucks. Unless you’re a star athlete, an attractive cheerleader, or the child of a filthy rich celebrity, there’s a high probability that you’ll be overwhelmed by the experience. Some people handle it better than others. I can say without question that I was not one of those people. If I were to get a grade on how I handled being a teenager, I probably would’ve gotten a C-minus at best.

As rough as it can be, you can learn a thing or two during your teenage years and I’m not just referring to the awkward changes that come with puberty. We don’t have much choice in how our bodies mature with age, but we do have a choice in how we handle the harsh lessons that come our way. In the interest of sharing some personal insights, which I’ve done before, I’d to revisit a lesson I learned about love.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I think it’s fitting. Those lucky enough to have a special someone to spend the day with probably had to endure plenty of hardship to achieve what they had. I’m not afraid to admit that I envy those people. However, seeing as how I am such a romance fan, I’m not bitter. Why else would I spend so much time writing sexy novels and sexy short stories?

That said, there’s a difference between being a fan of romance and actually pursuing it. That was part of the lesson I learned with this particular incident. It occurred right around the time I started high school, which was already plenty miserable for me. I’ve already gone on record as saying how much I hated high school and those first few years were some of the worst.

There were, however, a select few reasons that made high school worth going to back then. One of those reasons was the first girl I ever had a serious crush on. It’s almost as corny as it sounds, but I won’t apologize for it. I was a lonely, miserable teenager who was just starting to develop a terrible acne problem that would plague me for the next five years. I wanted to connect with someone.

On top of that, I was a closeted romance fan. I genuinely wanted to seek the kind of love that I saw in comics, TV shows, and movies. I wanted to be part of my own love story and when I saw this girl, I felt like she could be part of that. I know that sounds like the musings of a love-sick teenage boy who listened to one too many boy bands, but that’s how I felt.

I still remember the first, last, and middle name of my first crush. Out of respect, I won’t share it. For the sake of keeping this story coherent, I’ll call her Angela. Without getting too descriptive, I’ll just say she was cute in a way that would always brighten your day. It doesn’t matter if you lost a fight, failed a mid-term, and got detention. One smile from Angela was enough to make everything in your world feel right.

I know that’s melodramatic. Again, I was a goddamn teenager who had read too many comics and watched too many movies with romantic sub-plots. That’s just how my brain was wired and the added effects of male hormones didn’t help. All I knew was that I had a crush on this girl. What I didn’t know was how to act on it.

This is where I learned a couple critical lessons. The first, and most obvious, realization I had was that my social skills sucked. It’s not just that I was socially awkward. My conversation skills for people outside my immediate family were awful. I struggled to get a conversation going. I struggled even more to keep it going. If I talked long enough, I would often say something stupid.

One time, I was sitting next to this girl in a science class and I just blurted out that I tried cat food once. I don’t know how or why I admitted that. It wasn’t even true. All I know was the girl just looked at me weird for the rest of the day and I honestly don’t blame her.

I already knew this about myself before I met Angela. As a result, I avoided talking to her at first. We initially met when we got paired up for an English assignment. I thought we got along well. I managed to work with her and not say anything too stupid. While I did learn she had a boyfriend at the time, she actually told me that it was not going well and they were definitely breaking up.

At the time, I thought that was a sign that maybe we had something. Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure she was just venting about her own personal issues. I just happened to be there to listen at the time. In my warped teenage brain, though, that was proof that I wanted to pursue this girl. I just didn’t know how and that’s when I learned a few more harsh lessons.

Chief among them was that if you’re really interested in someone, you have to be mindful of how you show that interest. If you’re not careful, it can come off as creepy and pathetic. For me, I don’t think I was creepy, but I was definitely pathetic and no woman finds that attractive.

I know because it took me almost a year after meeting her to make a move. I’d shared a few classes with her. She knew my name and I knew hers. I’d been friendly with her and she’d even been friendly with me a few times, but I was so shy and awkward that I really didn’t give her a reason to see me as more than just a casual acquaintance.

To make matters worse, my way of telling her I had a crush on her didn’t involve a difficult, face-to-face conversation. It involved me leaving a folded-up note in her locker with my email address written on it. Yes, I knew exactly where her locker was. I also took the time to slip it in when nobody else was there to see me. I admit that’s both creepy and a little pathetic.

For that reason, and probably others I’ll never know, she didn’t respond. I didn’t hear back from her and, at the time, that was genuinely heartbreaking. It ended making me more reserved and more socially awkward. High school was bad enough with hormones, homework, and acne. My first crush wanting nothing to do with me only made it worse.

That’s not to say I never heard from Angela again. About two years later, shortly after she moved away, I actually got an email from her. However, it did not lead to the epic love story I had hoped. It was a very short, very messy email. She just said that she got the note and thanked me for it. I told her who I was and she said she remembered me, but not much else came from it.

While not romantic, it still taught me one final lesson that ended up being the most important. When it comes to looking for love, you can’t go about it as though it’s story in a novel or movie. Love in the real world doesn’t work like that, especially with awkward teenagers. You actually have to work on talking to people, building connections with them, and giving them reasons to love you.

I never gave Angela enough reasons. I never even showed her that I was someone worth loving. I’d worked under the assumption that if I were just a nice, caring guy that the girl of my dreams would fall for me. That may work in cheesy sitcoms, but not in real life high school.

Some of these lessons took a long time to appreciate. It wasn’t until after college that I could look back on my experience with Angela with a more balanced perspective. I honestly wish it hadn’t taken so long. My social skills are still behind the curve. I feel like I held myself back for years, in terms of being a romantically desirable man, and I’m still trying to catch up.

While I’m in a much better place now than I was back in high school, I’m glad I went through that difficult experience of my first failed crush. Even though it took me way too long to learn from that failure, it offered insights that are more useful today than it ever was during my awkward teen years.

In terms of a first crush, I like to think I got lucky with Angela. She was sweet, caring, and understanding. She didn’t judge me for my social ineptitude or my terrible acne. I don’t blame her for not feeling the same way about me as I did about her. I just wish I’d handled it better.

One day, I believe I’ll find someone who will be as attracted to me as I am to her. When that day comes, I’ll be ready and that’s thanks in part to the lessons I learned by having a crush on Angela. While I doubt I’ll ever see her again, I’ll always be grateful to what she taught me about what it means to craft romance in the real world.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, romance, sex in society

What I Wish I Learned In Sex Ed

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I like to think I had a good education in sex growing up. I grew up in an area that heavily promoted comprehensive sex education and did not solely rely on telling horny teenagers to abstain. On top of that, my parents were very upfront and transparent on sexual issues. They did not lie to me and they did not avoid the issue whenever I asked them questions.

In that sense, I consider myself luckier than most. I’ve heard way too many horror stories about kids getting a form of sex education that’s downright damaging. At the same time, there are some things I wish my teachers and parents had taught me. I feel like it would’ve saved me a lot of stress, confusion, and uncertainty later on in life.

While some things can only be learned through experience, I think in matters of sexuality, insight goes a long way. It’s one of the few acts we’re biologically wired to seek. Even if we find something out on our own, we’re not always going to understand it and that often means making flawed assumptions. That can make things awkward, to say the least.

What follows is a list of minor, but relevant aspects about sex that I wish I’d learned more about growing up. Some of these issues are things my teachers probably couldn’t have mentioned in a health class without getting into trouble with parents, but that’s exactly why they’re worth putting out there. I think these are conversations worth having with young people, especially as we enter a new sexual landscape.


Number 1: What Orgasms Are And How They Differ With Gender

Looking back on my experience with sex education, this feels like the biggest oversight. I learned about male and female anatomy. I learned about pregnancy, contraception, and diseases. I even learned a little about healthy relationship skills. At no point in any of these discussions did orgasms come up.

While I knew what they were, no teacher ever said that word or even hinted that they were a normal part of sex. They either avoided the issue or pretended it didn’t exist. They described sexual function the same way my biology teacher described how animals digest food. This led me to wonder that adults were hiding something from me and my peers.

Later on, as I learned more about sex outside of school, it gave the impression that adults just didn’t want to tell young people about things that felt good. Never mind that orgasms have a lot of health benefits and are a great way for a couple to bond. Not even mentioning them just sent too many mixed messages that only get more mixed over time.


Number 2: Feeling Horny Is Natural (And Not An Affliction)

This was especially common in middle school. Granted, most teachers said that thinking about sex is natural. However, actually wanting it might as well have been the same as wanting to steal a car. In any case where someone might have wanted sex outside of marriage, it was framed as something deviant and wrong.

Again, this was not a religious school. This was a secular public school in a community that was not overly-religious. Even so, every health teacher gave the impression that being horny was no different than having a violent impulse to choke kittens. I’m thankful my parents did plenty to counter that, but it did leave me feeling more stressed than I already was as a teenager.


Number 3: The Sex You See In Porn Isn’t “Real” Sex

Most reasonable adults understand that the sex they see in porn isn’t supposed to mirror actual sex. That kind of sex is designed to be shot, edited, and exaggerated for erotic effects. The problem is that too many reasonable adults, some of which teach health classes to teenagers, assume that only adults are watching porn.

I knew what porn was when I was a teenager. I knew how to access it. Everyone in my class knew as well and anyone who claimed they didn’t were liars. While there were discussions about sex in the media, it never got beyond things like body image and peer pressure. They never actually explained to uninformed teenagers that porn is not a good representation of what sex is.

For men who think they’re supposed to hump for 40 minutes straight and women who think they have to hiss every half-second, it’s an important tidbit that’s worth sharing. It also doesn’t help that porn does a terrible job of depicting romance. Just a simple explanation at how exaggerated it was would’ve gone a long way towards developing a healthy understanding of what non-pornographic sex was.


Number 4: Not Having Sex Isn’t The End Of The World

This issue is similar to the issues associated with the DARE program that tried to convince teenagers to not do drugs. That program not only doesn’t work. It gave me and my peers a very flawed image of drugs for years to come. The way my health teachers talked about sex wasn’t much different.

Beyond skipping the joys of orgasms, they often described sex as this scourge that was spreading disease and misery to countless teenagers. If you weren’t doing it, then something must be wrong with you. At the time, I already had severe self-esteem issues that were compounded by a terrible acne problem that made me feel ugly and unloved.

While no teacher ever said that people who don’t have sex are somehow flawed. They only ever framed people who didn’t have sex as safer and less likely to get diseases. That’s not the same as saying it’s okay, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s actually pretty common. That revelation may not seem like much now, but at the time, it would’ve made a world of difference.


Number 5: Sex Can Be Emotional, Intimate, And Fun

This is a bit more personal for me because I was a closeted romance fan. I’d been a romance fan before I was a teenager and once sex entered the picture, I knew there was a link. My health teachers just did a terrible job of explaining it. They talked about sex as though it was just a formality, like a wedding or a tax refund. Romance and intimacy never entered the picture.

Sex was either just a small part of human reproduction or this dangerous thrill sport on par with juggling chainsaws while wrestling a hungry grizzly. There was no emphasis on intimacy, romance, or just the fun of it all. Couples do have sex for fun. There’s nothing wrong with that. My own parents even told me that. My health teachers, on the other hand, gave the impression they were completely unrelated.


Number 6: Some People Are Just Wired Differently For Sex

This may have been a product of my own teenage angst more than anything else. The way my teachers talked about sex made it seem as though everyone had this scary creature lurking inside them and a good chunk of our lives are spent keeping it at bay. Everyone had to do their part to tame their sexual demons. There was no way around it.

However, that’s not how peoples’ sex drives work. Some people just aren’t that sexual. They don’t get as horny as the average people. When they do, the things that satisfy them are wildly different than the things that satisfy others. Some people have elaborate kinks. Some are happy with a quickie in the shower twice a year.

This idea that everyone has their own sexual makeup wasn’t even hinted at. It made it seem as though everyone in the world, myself included, had the same sexual proclivities. Even though we can’t agree on gods, the afterlife, or pizza toppings, we’re all somehow in agreement on this. I know it sounds like common sense to an adult. To a teenager, it framed the world in a strange, overwhelming way that I could’ve done without.


Number 7: Not Every Woman Goes Crazy On Their Period

I know people don’t like talking about women’s bodies, especially when it comes to that time of month. They’ve been taboo for centuries and for a long list of frustrating reasons. When young men learn about what women go through during pregnancy and menstruation, though, they get the impression that their hormones turn them into meth addicts in withdraw.

Having grown up in a house with multiple women, sharing a bathroom, and just being around a lot of women in general, I know that most women don’t radically change when they’re on their period. Some do have issues. Most are understandable, treatable, and not a reason to fear an entire gender.

In the sex ed I got, I had multiple male teachers joke about how glad they were to not have to deal with periods. These teachers were married, by the way. It made me wonder whether they knew when to leave town or sleep in the basement during certain times of month. It also made me wonder if the women in my family were different because they didn’t seem to go crazy every month.

There’s certainly room to talk about women’s issues during sex ed, even among teenage boys. However, a little perspective would’ve gone a long way. It made being around girls more awkward than it already was. I was a teenager. There’s only so much awkwardness I could handle and I handled it poorly. I’m not saying better sex ed would’ve fixed everything, but it sure would’ve helped.

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A Personal Story About Puberty, Thongs, And High School

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It has been a while since I shared some personal insights. In my defense, this past year has been rough. Back in the summer, two very close family members of mine passed away. It has not been easy getting personal under those circumstances. I’d like to change that and in a way that isn’t entirely depressing.

With that in mind, I’d like to tell a story about puberty. I’ll give everyone a moment to stop laughing and/or cringing. Take all the time you need. If you’re like John Oliver, you may need more time than most.

I feel like it’s worth bringing up because, for better or for worse, how we go through puberty plays a big part in how we grow into adults. I can’t claim with a straight face that I handled puberty as well as I could’ve. If I were to grade myself, I would probably get a C-minus, at best. This story that I’m about to share should help explain why.

To understand why this moment in my life sticks out, there’s a particular context I need to establish, especially for my female audience. When it comes to changing from a child to an adult, there’s no one moment that marks the transition. One single strand of pubic hair doesn’t make you a man any more than one juice box makes you a kid.

More often than not, at least for men, there are a series of moments that effectively signal that you are not a kid anymore. You’re not an adult, either. You’re a teenager, steadily transforming into an adult body and doing your best to handle all these weird and overwhelming changes.

I can’t speak to the female experience, but I can say that as a male, those moments can be pretty powerful. They’re like way-points on the journey to adulthood. This story marks one of those way-points. It involves one of my least favorite classes in high school and cute girls wearing revealing thongs.

I’m being dead serious, here. Again, take all the time you need to stop laughing and/or cringing.

The setting was innocent enough. It’s my freshman year of high school. I’m an awkward 15-year-old with a terrible acne problem, an underwhelming stature, and low self-confidence. I’m also at an age where I’m really starting to feel my hormones and not just in terms of awkward boners. While I’d always enjoyed the company of girls, my teenage brain was starting to complicate those feelings.

I could manage that, for the most part. Then, I walk in my Introduction to Spanish class. Now, I’m already dreading this class because, at the time, I sucked at memorizing things not associated with comic books or NFL stats. It didn’t help that my teacher was awful so I was rarely in a good mood when I walked in.

That mood changed, somewhat, when my teacher gave us assigned seating in a new classroom. As it just so happened, I ended up sitting right behind a beautiful young woman with brown hair, tan skin, and nails she always painted purple. Why do I remember that while I forgot pretty much everything else in that class? That’s where thongs enter the story.

This girl, in addition to being beautiful and sweet, loved to wear thong underwear. I knew because from where I was sitting, I could see it clearly. It didn’t matter what kind of pants she wore or what the weather was like. Whenever she leaned forward on her desk, I got a perfect view of the top part of her thong.

I don’t know if it was intentional. This girl was not shy about her body, but not in a trashy sort of way. She was very sweet and kind to everyone, regardless of what she wore. She was that way with me, even though I had lousy social skills and bad acne. Whatever her reason, she didn’t seem to care that her thong showed every time she leaned forward. I never pointed it out to her and neither did anyone else.

I freely admit that I was very distracted by this, but not in a way I minded. If it weren’t a beautiful girl wearing a thong, it would’ve been something else. That’s how disinterested I was in this class. It led to more than a few awkward boners, but I’d been getting those for years. I’d never gotten them in a way that felt like a direct response to someone else’s presence.

It wasn’t just a sign that my body was changing. It signaled that my mind was changing too. How I felt and how I thought about girls was different than before. It was never going to be the same again and I feel like it started with that one thong-loving girl.

I acknowledge that there will be some people out there who think less of me for gawking at the sight of a young woman’s underwear, especially while at school. I’m won’t make excuse and I won’t apologize for it, either.

I was a 15-year-old boy going through puberty. I hadn’t yet mastered the art of hiding porn in my bedroom and the concept of sexy underwear on beautiful women was just starting to appeal to me. It’s for that very reason, however perverse some may find it, that this memory is so vivid for me.

It was at this moment, sitting in Spanish class and covertly admiring the cute girl’s thong, that I realized I was not a kid anymore. I was becoming an adult. That was a critical revelation for me because, up until that point, I still thought of myself as a kid. Even at 15, I hadn’t quite shed that part of my identity. This experience changed that.

I couldn’t keep clinging to childhood. Moreover, I didn’t want to anymore. I felt like an adult. I wanted to grow up. I know that sounds like a lot of revelation from just seeing a cute girl’s thong, but make no mistake. The impact was that profound. It remains a defining moment for my adolescence.

In addition to the thong, I also remember the girl’s name. For the sake of her privacy, I won’t share it. However, after I finished that class, I never had a class with her again. I didn’t see much of her for the rest of high school. I doubt I’ll ever see her again. Even if I don’t, her impact on my teenage life is etched in bedrock. For that, I thank her and her tastes in underwear.

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What “Big Mouth” Gets Right (And Wrong) About Puberty

When you’re a platform that has created shows like “House of Cards” and “BoJack Horseman,” the bar for quality is higher than most. That’s the benefit/burden of being successful. Say what you will about how Netflix has evolved over the years, it has produced some amazing content in an age that some call the third golden age of TV.

Then, there are shows like “Big Mouth.” I’m not saying that Netflix is lowering the bar for the sake of balance, but I’m still struggling to make sense of this show. When I heard about it, especially with comedian Nick Kroll attached to it, I hoped I had found another show to pass the time in between seasons of “BoJack Horseman.” I’m won’t say I was disappointed, but I do feel like I took the quality of Netflix content for granted.

I’m not going to say that “Big Mouth” is a bad show, but I won’t make excuses for it. It’s the kind of show that goes out of its way to be crude for all the wrong reasons and not in the traditions of “South Park” either. It doesn’t go for the cheap laugh or even the mid-priced laugh. It’s a show that just goes out of its way to sensationalize teenagers going through puberty.

On paper, it sounds like a great concept. Going through puberty is wrought with all sorts of craziness, some funny and some embarrassing as hell. I’ve shared some on this blog, including a story about the most awkward boner I’ve ever gotten.

Big Mouth” tries to extract humor from similarly awkward situations. It takes a lot of swings and it misses a lot of pitches, but it does manage to hit a few balls here and there. Yes, I also mean that in a literal sense. This show does resort to that kind of humor.

It may not be the kind of high-concept insight you get from an episode of “Rick and Morty,” but it does at least try to send a message about the horrors of puberty. Even if the product is crude and exceedingly exaggerated, that message is relevant, so much so that it’s worth talking about.

I honestly didn’t expect to write about “Big Mouth” in any capacity, especially when writing about sexy memories from my college years is so much more interesting. However, after gritting my teeth and watching the show, I feel the horrors of puberty are worth talking about, especially with ideas about toxic masculinity being so prevalent lately.

Big Mouth” doesn’t attempt to wade too deeply into those kinds of issues. It’s too crude and too crass a show to even attempt that kind of commentary. However, it does do a good job at showing just how powerful and, at times, overwhelming that flood of hormones can be to a young person. For some, it’s downright traumatic.

Throughout the show, the main characters, Nick Birch, Andrew, Glouberman, and Jessi Glaser, are often hounded by literal manifestations of a monster that personifies their hormones. It’s never clear whether the monster is invisible or not, but this creature basically says everything the FCC won’t allow teenagers to say out loud.

For the boys, the monster is named Maurice and his advice usually amounts to things like, “Go ahead and jerk off!” or “Look at her tits!” or “Too bad, buddy! You’re getting a boner!” I’m not going to lie. That monster kind of triggered some awkward moments from my teenage years where I found myself thinking thoughts too crude, even for my novels.

The girls aren’t spared from that awkwardness either. There’s another hormone monster every bit as crude, but reserved for female characters. Her name is Connie and she embodies all the alpha bitch, hyper-feminine extremes that Sam Kinison ever joked about. She’s emotional, dramatic, and demands that every female character be confused or overwhelmed by her body. That’s basically puberty in a nutshell.

In a sense, “Big Mouth” is unique in its balanced approach to showing how boys and girls both struggle to endure puberty. That’s rare in most coming of age stories that either focus on horny guys trying to get laid or bitchy girls trying to get popular. This show doesn’t give a pass to either gender.

This is what “Big Mouth” actually gets right about puberty, to some extent. It’s not just overwhelming and frustrating for one gender. The male experience is unique. They have to deal with constant erections and that annoying voice in their head urging them to think dirty thoughts about anything that even looks like a beautiful women.

Since I’m a man who has more than his share of bad memories from my awkward teen years, that’s a sentiment I can appreciate. However, it’s the female perspective in “Big Mouth” that I found most intriguing. The idea that girls are just as freaked out about the changes in their bodies, minds, and everything in between shouldn’t be such a novel concept, but this show goes out of its way to belabor it.

Now, I don’t know for sure that the girls I went to high school with had an actual hormone monster on their shoulder, telling them to cry irrationally at a moment’s notice or lash out at anyone who dared to look at them the wrong way. It’s just somewhat refreshing to think that teen awkwardness knows no gender.

If gender balance is a strength in “Big Mouth,” though, it’s biggest weakness is portraying how the characters deal with it. The show is so over-the-top with the extremes of puberty that it’s hard to glean a meaningful story from it all.

It’s not just that puberty takes the form of actual hormone monsters that sound like uncensored commentary from a bad porno. It’s not that the show makes puberty sound overly traumatic either. There’s never a sense that the characters, even Jessi and Nick, actually grow through the experience. That’s kind of a big oversight with puberty.

From a purely biological standpoint, puberty is the maturation of a child into adulthood. That maturation part is never even hinted at in the show. After watching the first season of “Big Mouth,” it’s hard to imagine any of the characters involved growing into functioning adults.

In the real world, puberty tends to bring out the best or worst in a person. If someone starts becoming an asshole in puberty, they usually stay that way into adulthood. If someone shows an ability to deal with it and grow, as a person, then they’re usually in good shape. It can even get pretty hilarious when both kinds of people have to deal with one another. Unfortunately, we don’t get that with “Big Mouth.”

I won’t go so far as to say the show is terrible. It does have its moments and some of those moments are genuinely funny or insightful. It is, as the end of the day, an overly comedic take on the rigors of puberty. It doesn’t try to be coy or deceptive. It doesn’t try to use colorful metaphors involving flowers or cucumbers. It gets right down the dirty, gritty details.

I can see the show appealing to those who suffered more during puberty than most. I can even see the show appealing to “South Park” and “Family Guy” fans. It’s hardly a guide or a warning with respect to the rigors of puberty, but it reflects a common truth. Being a teenager sucks and puberty is a big reason why.

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