Tim McDaniel: Idaho Teacher Investigated For Saying "Vagina" in Anatomy Class

“In Great Neck, New York, they call it a ‘Pussycat.’… in New Jersey, a ‘twat.’ There’s ‘powder box,’ a ‘poochi,’ a ‘poopi,’ a ‘pee-pee,’ a ‘poopalu,’…There’s ‘toadie,’ ‘dee-dee,’ ‘Nishi,’ ‘dignity’…‘monkey box,’ ‘pajama,’ ‘fannyboo,’ ‘mushmello,’…a ‘mimi’ in Miami, a ‘split kinish’ in Philadelphia. And a ‘schmende’ in the Bronx.” - From the opening monologue of The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

Vaginas are causing problems in the Idaho school system. A 10th grade anatomy class has landed biology teacher Tim McDaniel in hot water: an investigation by the state’s professional standard commission — the allegation: the teacher taught students the biological role of the vagina in a lesson on human reproduction. 

Fifteen years ago, activist Eve Ensler interviewed more than 200 women about vaginas. Intrigued and disturbed by the social taboo, Ensler compiled and created the play, The Vagina Monologues. One of the goals of the play, which has now been performed in over 140 countries and is routinely performed on hundreds of U.S. campuses every year, was to normalize the word. 

Fifteen years later, there is apparently still work to do.

Science has long been under attack in classrooms across America, whether it be sexual education or global warming lessons. Perhaps most famous was the 1925 Scopes Trial (State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes) centered around the high school teacher who broke the law by teaching his students evolution.

This latest attack on science has an antiquated nature. Pussyfooting around the naming of female genitalia seems laughably Victorian — except its an Idaho classroom in 2013.

What about vaginas are these irate Idaho parents scared of? Is it that by knowing the anatomical name, students are more likely to engage in sex? It can’t be that the parents are worried that students will better understand the mechanics of sex. Oddly, the reports suggest parents were upset not with the teaching of human reproduction, but only with the use of “vagina.” The parents must feel that the word “penis” does not excite the same fever of teenage sexual activity, as its naming as elicited no similar hoopla.

However despite these particular parents’ squeamishness, unlike in the 1925 Scopes Trial, there is no law on the books in Idaho that prevents the teaching of the anatomical body part called the vagina. What then exactly are the grounds for the investigation?

Since the publication of the case, droves have protested the investigation. Their arguments are varied and valid. People have cited the incident as an act on feminism, as an inappropriate imposition of personal beliefs, as the silencing of routine education of how human bodies work.

More troubling is the very fact that a teacher in the 21st century in the U.S. can be investigated for teaching the textbook. It is one thing for four parents to wish to prolong the innocence of their 16-year-olds (or prolong their own naivete). It is one thing for such parents to ask a school to allow their children to opt out of such lessons (a choice actually given to the students in this particular biology class.) But it is quite another for a school to fail to defend its teacher in such an obvious overstep of parental power.

In the end, the Idaho case appears, luckily, a bizzare anomaly, but the case raises the larger issue of the role and responsibility schools have in defending the teaching of fact and defending the teachers who teach those facts.

And in the case of Idaho, if these parents’ qualms are really with using the scientific name of this particular part of the female anatomy, perhaps the high school biology teacher should borrow from Ensler’s work and start teaching the anatomy of “fannyboos” instead.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Jessica Lander

Jessica graduated from Princeton University with a major in Anthropology and a Certificate in African Studies. Her undergraduate thesis was based on an extended ethnographic study of a school for under-privilaged children in Arusha, Tanzania. Since graduating she has continued her focus in education. She has spent a year teaching college students at Chiang Mai University in Northern Thailand, and a year teaching 6th grade in the Boston inner-city with the non-profit Citizen Schools. Over the past two years she has worked in theater, teaching and directing Shakespeare both in Thailand and in Boston. When not teaching, Jessica writes - keeping an education focused blog: Chalk Dust (http://jessicalander.blogspot.com)

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