Left Side of the Classroom

Left Side of the Classroom

The year was 1998.  I was walking towards my honors history class.  Little did I know that the next half hour was going to make such an impact upon my life and belief system.  I was in the eighth grade going to a middle school in west Texas where we are unfortunately known for our prejudices and less than mediocre educational system.

Sitting down at my desk and fumbling to retrieve my notebook our teacher introduced two individuals to the class.  To this day I cannot remember their names.  Looking up I saw a man and woman standing next to her.  She announced that they were here to talk about a subject and that we were going to participate in a “debate” of sorts.  Our teacher sat down at her desk and turned us over to the man and woman.  The man directed us to move our desks (to be split evenly) to the opposite sides of the room and we were to stand in the middle.  We obliged and stood there fidgeting in uncomfortable silence, still in the dark about what this was really all about.

“Today we are going to discuss a controversial topic.  Are you guys familiar with Roe vs. Wade?”  said the woman.  We told her we did by nods and half mumbles as teenagers are known to do.  She then went into a quick overview of the case and the Supreme Court ruling anyways for some of the other students who most likely had no clue about the case but were too self-conscious to admit it aloud.

“Now,  I want you to stand on the right side of the room if you think abortion is wrong and should be illegal.  If you are unsure then stay in the middle where you are.  And if you think abortion is OK and should stay legalized, you stand on the left side of the room.”  The man said.  Students crowded the right side of our small classroom.  My heart was beating wildly and the sweat began beading on my forehead.   I was wide eyed and shocked as I shuffled over to the left side of the room…. alone.  I was standing alone on the left side of the room and the rest of my classmates were on the right staring, mumbling, smirking at me.  I wished myself invisible.  I clenched my trembling fingers knowing in that moment the rest of my 8th grade year was now in ruin.  For standing on the left side of this room I would be whispered about in the halls, bathroom, cafeteria… everywhere on this campus.  I could already hear the rumors spread standing there by myself.  I could have cried.

The man turned towards the majority.  “Why do you think abortion is wrong?”  My classmates looked around to see who was going to speak up first.  A girl said, “Abortion is murder.”  Many nods in agreement followed.  “Why is it murder?”  the man asked.  A boy spoke up, “It says ‘Thou shalt not kill’ in the Bible.”  The girl followed with, “Murdering children is wrong!”  Louder, more vocalized agreements from the right.  The woman turned towards me, “Why do you think abortion is OK?”  My mind raced as my hands shook.  The lunch in my stomach turned to stone.  My voice wavered as I began, “Well… what if the woman was raped?  What if a child was raped and she became pregnant?”  I asked the majority.  The boy who spoke earlier laughed, “A girl can’t get pregnant!”  I looked at him red-faced, “Many girls get their periods at a young age.  My aunt got hers when she was ten!  It’s possible.”  The boy shifted uncomfortably as I glared at him.

“Let’s calm down.  This is controversial for a reason.  Miss, continue please.”  I felt confidence flood my veins.  I looked at my opposition.  “What my point is, is that nothing is so black and white.  What if a woman was sick and it was the difference between life and death for her?”  The girl shook her head, “It’s still wrong.”  I shifted my eyes to her, “I had a teacher once in fifth grade.  Her son was my best friend.  She became pregnant while she was very sick.  I don’t know what was wrong with her but I remember my friend crying because the people at our church were being mean to his mother.  People found out she had an abortion.  She had it to save her life and be there for her family.”  I wanted them to see, to understand, to at least sympathize with my friend’s mother.  I wiped damp hands onto my jeans and stared at my sneakers.  “How many of you are now unsure of how you feel about abortion?”  The woman asked.  No hands raised.  “If any of you have changed your minds you can switch sides or move to the middle.”  No one moved but some wore uncertainty on their faces now.

“Aside from your excellent points, why should abortion stay legal?”  I looked up and said, “Because I don’t want anyone to have control over my body except for me.”  The bell rang, class was over.

It’s fourteen years later and I can still remember the fear of standing alone on the opposite side of that classroom from my peers.  I said what I believed in spite of that fear and I always will.

Have any of you had an experience similar to mine when you were in school?  Was this an appropriate topic to be debated on in an eighth grade classroom?  What would you have done?

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This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. wow, holy shit. I can’t imagine being the girl on the left side, but I’ve been there. (not in 8th grade though, and i managed to make enough people understand my point that I ended up in the majority side rather than alone)

  2. My cousin would not be here today if it were not for us being able to terminate her pregnancy. It was either they both die or with the option of termination, save her life. She was only 22. And even though diabetes is still making her life a daily struggle she is here to be with her four year old son. I was in agreement with your classroom, who are we to murder something so innocent that didn’t chose to be given life. But if abortion was illegal my cousin would not be here. And honestly it was up until that day I felt that abortion should be illegal, until it mattered to me and hit home.

  3. I’ve ALWAYS felt that it’s a womans own choice; I personally could not abort my own children, but rape victims, victims of incest and medical reasons should be allowed the choice.

    People who use abortion as birth control, however, should not. In my opinion.

  4. Can’t believe school condoned such an approach – seems closer to bullying than to education.

  5. I was in 10th grade and chose abortion as my topic for speech class. I spoke of a women’s right to choose and that I did not want anyone telling me what I could or couldn’t do with my body. I explained back room abortions. My speech was followed by someone who was against abortion. His speech was complete with slides. I had a couple people say they agreed with me but most agreed with the guy. I still hold true to my belief today that politicians and their religious beliefs have no place in my medical care. It’s between me and my doctor.

  6. You were very brave to stand against your peers like that. I know I wouldn’t have at 12.

    I didn’t even begin reasoning out my morals until 15 or so. But, we both came to the same conclusion.

    No one should make such personal choices for another human being. I can understand people who would refuse to have an abortion.. but you can’t force your morals and beliefs on the population as a whole.

  7. You were a very brave eighth-grader. I’m amazed that the school would actually set up such a situation for students — the adults should be ashamed. @Katie Boe: yes, part of the difficulty is helping people really envision the horrific circumstances so many women face. Once people know someone close to them who has struggled with these circumstances, they seem very willing to grant the possibility for “that particular case.” Often wonder why people don’t band together in a pro-prevention movement to minimize domestic violence, rape, incest, sexual assault, and sexism, as well work for readily available contraception, pay equity, comparable worth, safe affordable childcare, and family leave policies — all of which would help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. Even with all these goals accomplished (a fantasy utopia or a longer term social situation at a minimum), there will always still be the life and health of the mother. Or fetuses that die in utero and threaten future reproductive capacity, and so forth. I guess the best way to summarize it all? A medical question best left to a woman and her doctor.

  8. Good for you! In my 9th grade health class we had to write essays on this same question. I was the only one who was pro-choice, bringing up many of the points you all have mentioned. The teacher actually read it out loud with the purpose of making all of the others think about issues such as rape and health. At first I was awkward and embarrassed but as a few people tried to argue the point with me I gained more confidence and reiterated the points I was making.

    To my surprise, no one really said anything to me about it after that day in class. This is surprising because all through elementary and middle school, I was one of 2 girls who were the least popular- meaning bullied and spoken ill toward.

    Here was prime opportunity to make fun of me… and no one took it.

    I guess maybe they realized I was willing to stand up and talk back to them, and had my own well thought out opinions about “grown up” issues.

  9. I am proud of what this young woman did at such a young age – standing up for your belief is hard, and it’s even harder when you do it alone.

  10. If this girl was my daughter…. Id b so proud & would b warmed in my heart/soul that i raised a empathic, loving, compassionate child. One strong ass young lady who not only sticks up for herself but for others that need it the most.

  11. I admire your comment before the bell rang. such clarity for a child. seems manipulating and ignorant for the adults to place “ok” with “legal” on the left side, forcing them to be in conjunction as if they mean the same thing.

  12. This is a horrible thing to put a young mind through. Especially in the worst possible environment for peer pressure and bullying. The way that she handled herself was absolutely admirable and far better than grown women twice her age would have. I sincerely hope that she does great things with her life. If she as a child, can stand up to a room full of her peers utterly opposed to her choice all alone and make reasoned, very grown-up conclusions, then she can stand up to anything. My hat’s off to the writer of this piece. Well done. Respect.

  13. Great post TJ. If abortion is made illegal, it will still not be made impossible, and then come the horror stories of coathangers and the like. I, personally have mixed feelings on this delicate subject. But I dont feel that law should tell anyone what they can or cannot do with their body. You were a very brave young person. Keep up the good work my friend

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