If you live in Washington state, you may (or may not) have been aware that a bill passed this last week to require public schools to teach “comprehensive sexual health education to all K-12 students.”
After reading a friend’s well-thought out and well-researched Facebook post on it (which I wholeheartedly agreed with and will reiterate some of her points here), I had to do some research on it myself. After reading many articles on both sides of the issue, I do feel more informed on it, although I’m aware there is probably still much research that I could do.
If you have concerns on this issue or want to discuss it more with me, I’d love to do that with you in person, because it is an issue that I feel passionately about.
By now, I’m sure you know that I’m a conservative Christian, and that my beliefs are founded on what the Word of God says. But even aside from that, my concerns and observations come from almost six years of being a public school educator – for fifth graders – and seeing what they need developmentally. And because I love them and want the best for their futures, I will keep fighting for what I believe they need most.
First of all – if the question is, “Should public schools be required to teach sexual health education?” – I believe the answer to that is absolutely yes.
Do I also believe that the first source of information about sex should be parents? Yes, of course. But the sad reality is that so many of our kids come to us from homes where that simply isn’t the case. Even further, many of them aren’t even being taught basic social emotional skills, which has now become a requirement for us to teach as well.
If you are blindly clinging to the only option being that parents should teach it and schools should not, then you are going to have to accept that many kids won’t get any education on sex except from their friends and the Internet. And I firmly believe that that’s not okay.
If our kids are coming from broken homes where they see poor examples of sexual health and relationships, chances are that they will only continue this cycle. They need to see that there is another way, and our public education can provide them with that.
Second of all – if the question is, “Should we be teaching sex ed before seventh grade – and all the way down to kindergarten??” – my answer is yes to the first and partly yes to the second. If you’re talking about a very specific curriculum for K-3 that was proposed that contains too detailed of information for their age level, I would say no.
But if it only includes basic social-emotional skills for K-3 about private parts being private and saying no to others touching your body, then I say yes. We already do this in our district under the label of Personal Safety, and it is so important in identifying and educating our most vulnerable students around sexual abuse. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of children being sexually abused, but we can’t turn a blind eye – we have to help them and part of that is through basic education.
Our district also starts human growth and development education in fourth grade and it’s taught grades four through six at the elementary level. I myself have taught it every single year that I’ve been a teacher, and every year, I see how incredibly valuable it is. Developmentally, that is when their bodies begin to change, and they have so many questions. And because I didn’t feel comfortable at their age asking questions and thus endured years of shame about things I didn’t understand, I think it is SO important that kids have a safe place where they can be taught and ask questions without embarrassment.
And this is where I think it can be hardest for parents, because they do feel embarrassed talking to their kids about sex and puberty. But I beg of you to work through your own awkwardness so that your kids can get the right view of their own bodies and sex the way that God created it to be enjoyed.
If we refuse to bring up the “bad” topics like pornography and masturbation, our kids will find out about it in other ways. But if we bring it up and discuss it in the context of how it ruins the beauty of what sex inside of marriage was meant to be, our kids will know that they can talk to us safely about it – and that if they struggle with it, they will find advocates in us and not angry judges.
It also makes me sick to think that many of my fifth-graders (and younger) have already been exposed to twisted views of sex that I’m not even aware of. But again, instead of running away from it and shaming it, we have to replace it with something that is good and healthy.
Which, of course, leads me to the third question on this topic – the most controversial of all – “Well, then, what curriculum are you going to use to teach them?”
Many of the recommended curricula put forth by the state included information that was far too graphic and not age-appropriate for various ages – and many of them also included a specific agenda.
And this is the problem that we run into with sex education – is that the line between what is “medically and scientifically accurate” and what is “values-based” can get blurred quickly. Or some research is overlooked or pushed to the side so that people don’t have to bring their own issues to light and question whether they have the healthiest choices.
Because if adults present research about how pornography is addictive and how there are post-abortion consequences for women, then they may have to confront their own encounters with that in the past.
If adults present research about how abstinence is the only complete guarantee against unintended pregnancies and STDs and how those who have sex within a committed, monogamous relationship called marriage are far happier than those who sleep around constantly – they may have to admit some things about their own lack of control in those areas.
If we teach kids that feelings are feelings that don’t have to be acted upon – that we can learn to have self-control and wait until the right time for sex – that we may be confused by our feelings at age 12, but that doesn’t mean we need to make life-altering decisions about our gender right then – that we need help from trusted mentors and adults to get us through the achingly confusing years of our teens – will adults start squirming because they don’t hold to those same standards?
Or will they just push the opposite standards and tell kids that they should act upon their feelings and by the way, here are some how-tos so that it’s easier for them?
I’m not saying everything in those proposed curricula is bad, because I haven’t read through all of them in close detail. I am concerned that there were no elementary classroom teachers in the workgroup that reviewed the curricula, seeing as how we’re the ones required to teach it. Whatever curriculum is adopted should most definitely be reviewed by the teachers who see the impact on their students and understand what’s most developmentally appropriate for them.
And if it’s going to be public education, please promise that you will show both sides of the issue and acknowledge to kids that if their family believes otherwise, that is okay and no one should make them feel badly for what they believe in.
On both sides, you’re probably going to end up with people who think the curriculum is too prescriptive. But I think it’s worth it to keep working through the options, to keep discussing the issues, and to keep fighting for our kids who desperately need a better understanding of sex and relationships than what the media – and their friends – are pushing down their throats.
I don’t have all the answers. But I’m willing to stay in this discussion and this fight for them until we start finding some.
I hope you’ll join me.