Our earth science textbook tries to explain parallax by showing two diagrams of the stars: the stars as seen in January and the stars as seen in July. One of my kids raised her hand and pointed out, giggling, “Um, you can’t see stars in July. Duh.”

I about busted a rib laughing. To her, that textbook was just some stupid crazy talk.

Today, after half an hour of bickering and needling and intentional provocation on both parts, a male student pretended to punch the aforementioned female student in the face. He didn’t touch her, but he came within centimeters, and she burst into tears and claimed he’d hit her. Later, in a private conversation with me, the male student, with a grin on his face, called the girl “a bitch” for arguing with him and “a pussy” for crying.

I’ve never, ever felt especially one way or another about those words. Sean, actually, has always been more aggressive about attacking sexist language than I have. To me, those words weren’t any more potent than the unisex “jackass”. Suddenly, though, that anger fell into place for me. This kid was using those words to describe this girl explicitly as justification for getting into her personal space, mocking her, and intimidating her. To him, it was okay because she was “a bitch” and “a pussy” and it was so clearly okay that he expected me to forgive his actions on the grounds that she deserved it. I was flabbergasted.

I don’t know where I’m going with this except to say that I’ve learned something. I see how those words shape and reflect the brutal reality that my students come of age in, and I really don’t like it. I’m the most present adult in most of my students’ lives (they see me eight hours a day, every day) and I want to offer them a different paradigm, but sometimes the obvious eludes me, and communication requires rewiring. There are no stars in July, obviously. Obviously it’s okay to hurt her if she’s being a bitch.

We’re having a winter dance in December. The girls came to me yesterday to set a date. It’ll be snow-themed, and instead of a night full of stars (which was the theme of our prom in May, when there were no stars), we’ll hang glittery snowflakes from the ceiling, sip hot cider, and watch the aurora dance.

My favorite thing about the prom was the way planning and carrying it off empowered my girls. This little corner of the earth needs all the girl power it can get, so I’m glad the prom committee is back in action. Look out, world, we’re working on the sequel!

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