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The Purpose Of Eyebrows And Other Things 5th Graders Wonder About

The human body is a terrifying place.

I remember the first time I learned that, as a mammal, I was completely covered in tiny hairs. Everywhere but my palms? Surely, this must be some sort of elaborate joke, I thought. That night, in the mirror, I confirmed that I did indeed have tiny hairs on the tip of my nose. I was flabbergasted.

Now, as an adult and a fifth grade teacher, I get to share that same sense of amazed disgust with my students.

I like to think of a 10-year-old as an adult human with a fully functional brain who just arrived on Earth and still has absolutely zero life experience. As a result, they're still figuring out what's made up (unicorns) and what’s real (narwhals). And there’s no subject with more rampant myths than the human body.

Over the past three years, I’ve answered questions like “What do you do if your body hair never stops growing?” and “What happens if you wake up one morning and you went through puberty overnight?”

"If you break a bone does it grow back or do you just have to live like that for the rest of your life?" I was once asked. Thanks to modern medicine, I was able to answer no. Responding to that wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking as the follow-up question: “If I jump off the top of a really tall building but spin right when I hit the ground, I’ll survive. Right?”

No! No! DO NOT TRY THAT!

It’s not just the students who learn about the mysteries of the human body either. I was recently asked the purpose of eyebrows. I don’t know about you, but it’s something I never considered before. My first guess was that eyebrows evolved to improve my Jack Nicholson impression, but it turns out that they stop sweat from running into our eyes. Who knew?

Broken bones and eyebrows are just the tip of the iceberg though. Think back, if you can, to the utter shock of learning about puberty. The process seems about as natural as the plot of a “Transformers” movie. Many adults seem to assume that kids will just figure it out on their own. A cursory glimpse at the anonymous question cards I receive each year suggests otherwise.

Over the past three years, I’ve answered questions like “What do you do if your body hair never stops growing?” and “What happens if you wake up one morning and you went through puberty overnight?” There are kids out there who are worried that they might wake up tomorrow six–feet-tall with a huge beard.

Responding to anonymous question cards has also allowed me to correct the rampant spelling errors besmirching the reputation of the great state of Virginia and the noble pines.

I like to think of a 10-year-old as an adult human with a fully functional brain who just arrived on Earth and still has absolutely zero life experience.

In all honesty though, each year there is a dramatic improvement in the general classroom odor after we tackle the topic of antiperspirant. I imagine middle schools without an established health program likely have the bouquet of an old French cheese.

Question cards also form some of the most conclusive evidence that fifth grade girls are more sophisticated than boys. My female students ask reasonable questions like “When will puberty begin?” while my group of young men ask “Can you say the word balls again?” and “What was that word you said that started with ‘b’ and ended with ‘alls’?”

Of course, the most mind-blowing process of all is reproduction. Where babies come from is so inherently counterintuitive that children happily believe a long-legged bird delivers them on demand. I remember clearly the only conversation I had with my father after I learned the truth.

I came home, wide-eyed and appalled. “Dad, you’re not going to believe this disgusting thing that people actually do,” I said. Then I talked him through the horrifying mechanics of intercourse.

Nodding, with only the faint hint of a smile, my dad turned to look at me. “You might change your opinion one day.”

This program aired on March 1, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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