While some of the fires have probably died in Helena following last year’s heated discussion about health curriculum in the public schools, the importance of providing students helpful, frank information about health, including sexuality, has not diminished at all.
Laurie Abraham, in the New York Times Magazine, recently wrote an excellent, timely piece about a kind of health education likely to make some of the opponents of health curriculum in Helena recoil in fear: honest, sometimes explicit conversation about relationships, societal expectations, and sexuality.
It’s also exactly what students need.
While some of those opposed to the health curriculum (and in the former Bush Administration) believe that the only appropriate programs are based on abstinence-only education, such programs are demonstrably unsuccessful when it comes to promoting healthy choices by young people, who need to be treated with respect and honesty.
Abstinence-based programs are a fundamental betrayal of the needs of our students, as the article notes:
“The campaign for abstinence in the schools and communities may seem trivial, an ideological nuisance,” Michelle Fine and Sara McClelland wrote in a 2006 study in The Harvard Educational Review, “but at its core it is . . . a betrayal of our next generation, which is desperately in need of knowledge, conversation and resources to negotiate the delicious and treacherous terrain of sexuality in the 21st century.”
Young people will get information about sexuality, if not from parents and concerned adults in the schools. They’ll get it from popular culture, which will give them distorted ideas about gender roles and body image. They’ll get it from pornography, which often features depictions that are entirely demeaning to women. They’ll get it from friends, who as just as misinformed and confused as they are.
They’ll also get it from experience, which without knowledge, can be emotionally damaging, unhealthy, and even dangerous. This danger will only be compounded if students don’t have someone to talk to about their feelings and experiences.
While there are those who argue that discussions about sexuality should be limited to the home, to advance that argument is to ignore the fact that many parents are unwilling or unequipped to have these conversations. Even those with the closest relationships and most knowledge can easily struggle with a subject many parents never want to broach.
As a wise former student noted:
I sincerely hope that every young person has someone in their life that they can talk to about sex as candidly and openly as the educator in this article. The sad reality is that conversations like that are too few and far between.
The fight about helping students make healthy choices may have died down, but the dialogue must not.