Hey, YA authors – especially you paranormal romance types, who are so fond of doing this – if you’re going to feature your characters attending a specific, ordinary high school class, it’s a damn good idea to go sit in on a few of those classes at an actual specific, ordinary high school and see what they’re like. I know you’re just using it as a “subtle” way to introduce plot points, but at 21 years old with a still-vivid memory of high school, nothing throws me out of a story more than a class that doesn’t feel real.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for you, just as an example (and yes, all of these “don’ts” are things I’ve read in recent YA novels):
What’s covered: The mathematics and philosophy of economics as a discipline, including lots of graphs, lots of equations, some basic information on the stock market and lots of discussion on things like the free market system.
What’s NOT covered: Long discussions about random rich businessmen on the other side of the country who’ll be really important to the plot later on because oh-em-gee their families are just so wealthy.
What’s covered: Animal and plant classifications, going through the whole species, genus, kingdom, family things. The history of biology as a science. Small animal dissections. Plant or bug collections. Evolution if you’re lucky.
What’s NOT covered: Human “anatomy” or any kind of sexuality at all.
For one thing, that’s not even biology – any discussion of sexual reproduction is based entirely on genetic traits, while human sexuality is more of a philosophical discussion.
What’s covered: Lots of reading, mostly the works of dead white men though each program has its own specifications.There’s also a lot of paper-writing. If you’re lucky, there may actually be some creative writing in there too.
What’s NOT covered: Dramatic renditions of Romeo and Juliet. That’s Drama class people.
What’s covered: Good eating, good hygiene, good exercise. Stay fit and take care of your bodies, kids. It’s the only way they’re gonna last.
What’s NOT covered: Sexuality again. Yeh damn perverts. Have you even been in a high school in the last 10 years? Nobody talks about this sort of thing during the actual education parts! That would be too useful!
What’s covered: Tab A goes into Slot B. Here’s why. Here’s what happens during intercourse. Here are all the horrible disease you could get from doing it too casually. Conclusions are either “DON’T DO IT EVER” or “Here are a number of things to keep you safe,” depending on what state you’re in. Usually, this all takes the form of power point presentations and videos. If you’re really lucky, there may be a fake penis involved to show you how to properly apply a condom.
What’s NOT covered: Anything involving lab partners; especially those of the opposite sex. Seriously, that’s begging for a sexual harassment lawsuit. If there’s any sort of research or hands-on demonstrations to be done, they will put the boys in one room and the girls in another.
Also, sex ed last for one week, at most. Not a full semester. Get over it.
What’s covered: Depends on the level of math you’re in. Usually lots of equations and junk.
What’s NOT covered: Actually, I’ve never found a problem in math class depictions. They’re kind of hard to screw up.
1/20/2011 Clarification - I suck at satire. >.>
The point of this post is less to inform about the actual content of classrooms, because that varies from school to school. This is just a commentary on the stupid stereotypes that pop up to clumsily introduce plot points into YA novels. Long story short, if I never have to read another "love interest creepily introduced and/or developed during a class designed to increase sexual tension" scene again, it'll still be too soon. It's creepy, guys.