It is a typical American School set-up, where teachers cannot risk letting slip a callous remark. That is exactly what Ruth Ramsey does. Footloose and fancy free, Ruth teaches Sex Education at Stonewood Heights. What unfolds as part of a harmless class turns around Ruth’s life.

It is a story of a class which has children who’re a product of a conservative set-up. The town doesn’t match upto the mainstream American metropolis. The town is also vulnerable to staunch Christian ideas – those of the Tabernacle, which hold considerable sway over the children and teachers of Stonewood.

Yet, Ruth defies convention to wean the children away from the taboo that “sex” entailed. These were children, sixteen, naïve and grounded to the rules that society extended. Through the course of the class, Ruth spells out the intricacies of the bedroom to also bring out facets that people “enjoy.”

As outrage grips the school management, the parents and children, Ruth finds herself in the throes of controversy. From what was once an exciting journey, it takes on an embarrassing bent as the school leaves no stone unturned in pacifying a community that equates sexual ignorance to honor and chastity. Ruth is forced to teach abstinence instead of liberal sexual conduct. Teachers enforce the primitive ideology once again, prompted by the religious dictates of the society. As abstinence begins to gradually form the crux of her classes, Ruth finds a metamorphosis come into her domestic set-up as well.

Divorced with two children, she finds a steady distance settling in between the children and her. Embarrassed by their mother’s apparent misconduct within the precincts of the school, they find themselves drawn to staunch religious ideas, as preached by certain sects of Christianity.

In a parallel set-up, Tim Mason – now a devout Christian, has left behind a gory past that was embroiled in tumult. From alcoholism and drug addiction, Mason turns to Christianity as an anchor, to wean him out of habits that rehabilitation had failed at.

As Mason’s and Ruth’s paths cross, she finds herself losing her peace of mind to this man who exercises phenomenal control over her children’s school football ground as the Coach of the team. For Mason fosters practices which Ruth holds much objection against. As she works up a storm to have him ousted from his current position, both she and Mason are thrown deeper into the clutches of a relationship that neither is prepared for. What comes out of it takes both of them by surprise, tossing aside all previously held notions and judgements.

“The Abstinence Teacher,” is an account of an invidious campaign against the misconduct of a teacher – emblematic of the plight of a lot of American teachers who much watch out at every step for errors that could cost them dear. At the same time, it is also an account of humanity that is bound by staunch religious sentiments and the baser emotions that wreak havoc with the human psychology.

– Aditi Ananthanarayanan

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