Washington Post covers (so to speak) the cucumber story

CucumberI will eat my hat if someone comes up with — ahem — hard evidence of a public school teaching 10th graders how to put condoms on cucumbers. . . .

Posted by: Jeff Sharlet | December 5, 2004 05:14 AM

Sorry, but I have been on the road the last two days, down to an amazing Ethics & Public Policy Center mini-conference in Key West, Fla., entitled "Toward an Understanding of Religion, Politics and Public Life." Some of the materials from this — including large segments of White House speechwriter Michael Gerson’s talk on religion and presidential rhetoric — will be available online or in newsletters sooner or later. I seems that several of the two dozen mainstream journalists present have plans to write about one or more of the presentations at some time or another. Watch David Brooks and E.J. Dionne Jr. for starters.

But I did want to respond a bit to the earlier cucumbers and condoms thread, including the comment by The Revealer‘s Jeff Sharlet.

As I noted in the comments section, the Washington Post has weighed in on this story after it received quite a bit of attention from the Washington Times. So at this point, the reality of the controversy is no longer in question.

However, various reports — including the broadside from Maureen Dowd’s brother referenced earlier — debated a key fact in the story. What is the age of the cucumber-sheathing female in the public-education video? There may be an element of suburban legend to this.

For some people, it would seem inaccurately, she is a 10th-grade girl. The Post says she is a "young
woman." Another reference says it is a very young looking college student. The latter seems like the best bet to me, when you consider where these kinds of educational materials seem to originate.

In the Post, reporter Rebecca Dana describes how this Montgomery County (Md.) School Board controversy seems to be gaining strength (I am frantically seeking safe adjectives) rather than fading. Right in the lead, the story stresses that normal people — they don’t even have to be religious! — are upset about the cucumber-and-sexual-identity thing. Here is one of the key passages:

Under the changes, 10th-graders — except those whose parents opt them out of the sex-ed portion of the required high school health education class — will see a short video demonstrating how to apply a condom. Also added will be a one-week instructional segment on sexual identity, including discussions about
homosexuality and bisexuality. This segment, proposed for eighth- and 10th-grade health classes, will be tested in the spring at three middle schools and three high schools, not yet chosen.

The school board president, Sharon W. Cox (At Large), said the strong feedback was expected. "The response did not surprise me, either in its tenor or volume," she said.

Some people say the heat is related to the election results, of course. Maryland is a unique blend of ultra-red and ultra-blue zip codes. As the story notes, with a sniff: "In the region, some school districts do have leaner sex education curricula." In one nearby county they use a wooden phallus — no word on the type of wood — instead of a green vegetable. Just another day in real-world classrooms.

Stay tuned. I am sure the HBO special report (or Frontline) will be lively.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://god-of-small-things.blogspot.com Bob Smietana

    Back when I worked in residence life at a university, some of my colleagues did demonstrations with bananas and condoms, but no cukes.

  • http://www.therevealer.org Jeff Sharlet

    My hat is safe for the moment. I’ll admit that I didn’t spell out the terms of the deal clearly, but I need to see evidence that ACTUAL 10th graders are being given ACTUAL condoms to roll over cucumbers. Watching a video? Big deal. My high school civics teacher showed us “Faces of Death, 1 & 2,” to help us undertstand the death penalty as cool. Asinine? Sure. Now, if Mr. Ketchum had brought in a monkey and asked us to pop its skull with a vice, that’d be crossing the line.

    I will say I’m familiar with a high school condom on the banana situation. I published a piece by a graduate of a posh Catholic school who’d been taught that. A public school grad, I was shocked at what the nuns are up to…

    “The Mucus,” by Mary Valle: http://killingthebuddha.com/kama_sutra/mucus.htm

  • Susan Peterson

    I’d say the use of a cucumber is likely to lead to future disappointments.

    I think it is highly unlikely that anyone desiring this knowledge would not be able to obtain it. There is so much one could be studying in school, so much to learn, so little time. Why waste it on this?

    Susan F. Peterson

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Well, I took you at your word. But save the hat.

    You will notice that I did investigate the 10th grader angle, suspecting (as you did) that it had an element of suburban legend to it. But parents are upset about the video lessons, anyway. So the story is real.

  • http://fructusventris.stblogs.org alicia

    In 1991-1992, a senior student at Cleveland HS in Reseda CA gave a presentation on safer sex/STD prevention that involved having real condoms and real cucumbers, bananas, and I think one other vegetable or fruit (but I could be wrong there). It was part of a project for a Girl Scout Gold Award (equivalent of Eagle Scout). The presentation was during a health ed class, it was optional, but was apparantly very well received by teacher and students. I know the student who did the presentation personally and very well but I am withholding her name in this public forum.