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19 January 2012

Praise: Future of Sex Education

A number of religious and quasi-religious organizations are upset over the National Sexuality Education Standards that were published by Future of Sex Education (FoSE).  Before we get to the fears of these religious groups, let's look at the goals as set out on page 6.
• Outline what, based on research and extensive professional expertise, are the minimum, essential content and skills for sexuality education K–12 given student needs, limited teacher preparation and typically available time and resources.
• Assist schools in designing and delivering sexuality education K–12 that is planned, sequential and part of a comprehensive school health education approach.
• Provide a clear rationale for teaching sexuality education content and skills at different grade levels that is evidence-informed, age-appropriate and theory driven.
• Support schools in improving academic performance by addressing a content area that is both highly relevant to students and directly related to high school graduation rates.
• Present sexual development as a normal, natural, healthy part of human development that should be a part of every health education curriculum.
• Offer clear, concise recommendations for school personnel on what is age-appropriate to teach students at different grade levels.
• Translate an emerging body of research related to school-based sexuality education so that it can be put into practice in the classroom.
While I am not a teacher of sex ed, these look like common sense goals.  Looking at what research shows, determine what is best for the students.  Good.

The Family Research Council (FRC), in their Washington Update, complain.
In the proposed timetable, children should be able to "define sexual orientation as the romantic attraction of an individual to someone of the same gender or a different gender" by age 10 and "identify parents or other trusted adults of whom students can ask questions about sexual orientation."
These are by the end of fifth grade, not by age ten.  Some fifth graders will still be ten at the end of the school year, but most will be eleven years old.  So, from page 14 - 15, by the end of fifth grade here is what students should be able to do (I have added the numbering):
  1. Describe male and female reproductive systems including body parts and their functions.
  2. Identify medically accurate information about female and male reproductive anatomy.
  3. Explain the physical, social and emotional changes that occur during puberty and adolescence.
  4. Describe how friends, family, media, society and culture can influence ideas about body image.
  5. Identify medically accurate information and resources about puberty and personal hygiene.
  6. Explain ways to manage the physical and emotional changes associated with puberty.
  7. Explain how the timing of puberty and adolescent development varies considerably and can still be healthy.
  8. Identify parents or other trusted adults of whom students can ask questions about puberty and adolescent  health issues.
  9. Describe how puberty prepares human bodies for the potential to reproduce.
  10. Define sexual orientation as the romantic attraction of an individual to someone of the same gender or a different gender.
  11. Identify parents or other trusted adults of whom students can ask questions about sexual orientation.
  12. Demonstrate ways to treat others with dignity and respect.
  13. Demonstrate ways students can work together to promote dignity and respect for all people.
  14. Describe the process of human reproduction.
  15. Define HIV and identify some age appropriate methods of transmission, as well as ways to prevent transmission.
  16. Describe the characteristics of healthy relationships.
  17. Compare positive and negative ways friends and peers can influence relationships.
  18. Identify parents and other trusted adults they can talk to about relationships.
  19. Demonstrate positive ways to communicate differences of opinion while maintaining relationships.
  20. Demonstrate ways to treat others with dignity and respect.
  21. Define teasing, harassment and bullying and explain why they are wrong.
  22. Explain why people tease, harass or bully others.
  23. Identify parents and other trusted adults they can tell if they are being teased, harassed or bullied.
  24. Demonstrate ways to communicate about how one is being treated.
  25. Discuss effective ways in which students could respond when they are or someone else is being teased, harassed or bullied.
  26. Persuade others to take action when someone else is being teased, harassed or bullied.
  27. Define sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
  28. Identify parents or other trusted adults they can tell if they are being sexually harassed or abused.
  29. Demonstrate refusal skills (e.g. clear “no” statement, walk away, repeat refusal).
Aside from the list being extremely comprehensive and the language being stilted in a way typical to education academia, I really wish this had been around when I was young.  The FRC does not like #10 despite the accuracy of the definition.  This is, in fact, a great definition in that it places the emphasis on romance and attraction, not on physical sex.  The latter is important, but not as important as the emotions.

Keeping parents at the forefront is repeated five times (#8, 11, 18, 23, and 28).  One would think that the FRC would appreciate that part.  It is among many features of the standards that highlight the safety of the students.  But the FRC wrote:
Educators should not be undermining the values that parents are trying to instill in their children at home.
Apparently the FRC writer did not read the standards.  Chad Hills of Citizen Link, part of the American Family Association, complains that the standards are too explicit.
“Explicit, anything-goes sex-education groups would have our children and youth believe there are no values, principles or moral foundations associated with sexuality,” Hills said. “We disagree. Sexuality is an inherent part of our humanness in God’s design.”
Values?  There are clear values, such as respect for others, communications, and opposition to teasing, harassment, and bullying, just at the 5th grade level.  There is nothing opposed to any religion in the standards.  Mr. Hills must be upset because it is not focused explicitly on the teachings of any particular religion, notably his own.

The Citizen Link article goes on to complain that the FoSE website is opposed to abstinence-only sex ed.  It is with good reason that FoSE is opposed.  Abstinence-only does not work.

The Baptist Press also objects.
"In a society where adults are sharply divided on how to address these issues, it makes no sense whatsoever for groups like the NEA to tell our children how they should think," said Bob Stith, the Southern Baptist national strategist for gender issues and representative of the convention's Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.
Part of the importance of school is helping children learn to think.  Part of doing so involves students understanding what is true and then discussing the morality of these issues, the how they should think, with their parents, as the Standards repeatedly indicate.
Stith added in his comments to Baptist Press, "The reality is that it has the potential to create serious conflicts between parents and children. If children are taught values that are in direct opposition to the biblical values of their parents, those parents would be put in an adversarial position with their own children. This is just simply not a healthy approach."
If that were the case, then the Standards would not be telling students to identify parents and other trusted adults with whom they can discuss issues.  There is no endeavor to place a wedge between students and their parents.

Regarding the "biblical values", our versions of the Bible do not all agree.  Public school should never teach Jewish values, pandering to me, over Baptist values.  Instead, religion should be taught at home and in places of worship, not in the public schools.

There are numerous other articles out there complaining.  The complaints seem to be focused on acknowledgement that LGBTQ people exist, children knowing the correct names for parts of the body, a non-abstinence-only approach, and an imagined division of children from their parents.  The Standards are a detailed set of guidelines that will need to be refined in each school district with input from teachers, students, and parents.  It looks like a great start.

Thanks to Joe My God for the heads up.

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