When my daughter was in kindergarten, she proudly announced over supper that she "knew how babies were made." My husband almost spit his chicken across the table, and I choked on my water, but I tried to ignore our overreaction and ask her what she meant. Even though we had just had our second daughter that year, it wasn't a question she had ever asked or even brought up, so it was totally unexpected. "I know where babies come from," she repeated. "The man and the woman make a baby together."
Initially, I started to think what any mother with a child in kindergarten would think -- what is my daughter learning at school? She's in a Catholic school, for crying out loud! My husband was still unable to speak, so I asked her how she knew that. "Well," she responded, "I was watching several animal shows and I figured out that's how animals make babies, and since we have the same parts as animals, I guessed it was the same for us. Is it the same for us?"
That conversation was my first glimpse into what sex ed at home looked like. I grew up in a very conservative home, in a very conservative church, and attended a conservative Christian school where the word was never even spoken -- I remember in junior high, simply referring to it as just that: "it." It was like a taboo word that no one even dared speak. My sex ed in school? I remember those horrible videos explaining how your body changes when I was in grade five or six, and in grade eight, we had to take a semester of classes on AIDS... it was fear-mongering at best. The only sex ed I received at school? Sex causes AIDS.
Now don't get me wrong -- I still, to this day, love the school I grew up in, and I still attend the same conservative church branch. I still identify very strongly with conservative beliefs, and would call myself more right wing than left wing. That said, I can fully admit that the sex ed curriculum we taught in the past, and the sex ed we currently teach, is a broken system -- I can say that as a product of the system, as a teacher myself, as a conservative, as a Christian, and as a mom.
In my province (Ontario), the government is currently revamping the sex ed curriculum, and it has the conservative circles in which I travel up in arms. They are deeply offended that the government is taking the teaching of sex ed out of the control of the parents and into the classrooms. I get that, I truly do. I want my daughter to know my beliefs and convictions about this matter, and she will, but she also needs to learn them at school. Why?
First of all, I would like to suggest that learning something contrary to what you believe may not be a completely horrible thing. For instance, when I grew up, I attended a school and church of the same faith that I practiced at home. I rarely came home and contemplated the things I was taught. I didn't talk to my mom about things I had learned because in a way, it was always the same old thing. My daughter, on the other hand, attends a Catholic school, which has many practices that differ from ours. We often have discussions about things like confession and baptism and why our religions do things different. I think that has strengthened her faith, her reasoning, and her critical thinking skills. When faced with this new sex ed curriculum at school, I hope it will spark similar conversations about how we feel regarding the things they discuss.
Secondly, our world is so different than it was when we were children, when our moms stayed home and prepared us PB&J sandwiches after school and asked us how our day was. Parents are busy. Does that mean they get a pass when it comes to topics like this? In my opinion, no, but it does not excuse the reality that many parents do. Many parents are too busy to discuss the day with their children, let alone talk about what sex is and when it's okay to be having it, and when it's not okay. Parents are failing their kids, and when one parent fails, we're all a little less safe.
I'm not saying that to make people feel guilty, but here's a scenario: Parents A, B, and C do a fabulous job teaching their kids about everything related to sex ed. Their kids know to respect each other, to love each other, to be in a committed, loving relationship, or marriage, or whatever it is that you want your kids to know. Parent D is barely staying afloat -- things have been rough and surviving the day is all they can think about right now. Or Parent D has alcohol abuse issues. Or Parent D is never around. Whatever the case may be, child D is not getting any sex ed at home.
Where is Child D going to learn about sex? Because let's face the facts, guys -- he or she will learn about sex. If they don't learn about it from parents, there are only three other options: teachers, peers, or the media (i.e. TV, but most likely, the Internet). I gotta tell ya folks, this is the number one reason why I support mandated sex ed in our schools: Kids cannot be learning about such an important topic from the Internet, and our kids cannot be raising our kids. By default, schools are the only other option.
Wait a minute, you might say. If you're doing such a bang up job teaching your kids about sex ed (spoiler alert: I'm not) why do you care? Why do you have to interfere in the private business of other families? What they do or do not teach their children is up to them. And here's my response: Putting all issues of caring for the wellbeing of society as a whole aside, I have one single reason -- in fact, one single name, why a stronger sex ed curriculum is needed in our schools.
You may or may not have heard of her -- if you are Canadian, I'm pretty sure you have. If you're American, there's a high chance, but in case you haven't, I'll give you a quick recap. Miss Parsons went to a party and was allegedly gang raped and photographed by boys at her school. The photos were then passed around and she was bullied to the point of suicide. This is just one girl who lost her life because she fell into the hands of sexual bullies -- and there are many, many more.
Somewhere along the way, those boys learned that it was okay to do that to a girl. Somewhere along the way, those boys learned that no means no, but they didn't learn that nothing but yes means yes. Somewhere along the way, those boys learned that it was okay to treat a girl like a piece of meat, only usable for their own enjoyment. And I'm not just talking about the boys who allegedly raped her -- I'm talking about each and every person who shared those photos -- because each time that photo was shared, it was a horrible degradation to her.
I can teach my daughter all I want, I can teach day and night until I am blue in the face -- the point of the matter remains this: My daughter is only safe if everyone shares my core beliefs. If you don't teach your child adequately about sex, you are putting my child's safety at risk. If you don't teach your child that everything but yes means no, then you put us all at risk.
I want to think that my daughter will never end up at a high school party like that, or that she will never get drunk with friends, I really do. I think every parent does. However, I am not going to sit here on a high horse and say it will never happen. If that should ever happen, I want to know that the kids she is with have been taught, or if need be, brainwashed, to know what consent is and when it can and cannot be given -- including when she is under the influence of alcohol.
A lot of talk around this curriculum redesign in our province has been around that word, "consent." We've all heard it before: No means no. Well, in case you didn't know, that's a heaping pile of dog poo. What our kids need to know is what I stated above -- nothing but yes means yes. I am so proud of our government for taking a strong stance on the issue of consent -- so strong in fact, that they are recommending the idea of consent be taught as early as kindergarten.
Whoa, hold up just a minute! You want to teach my five-year-old what consent looks like? Now you are definitely crossing the line, Premier.
See, here's the thing: consent, like respect and many other issues in this debate, isn't an inherently sexual concept. We use the concept of consent on a daily basis. Can I borrow your car? Sure -- I am giving you my consent. No -- take my car anyway and you are committing a crime because I did not give you my consent. It has nothing to do with sex, but still illustrated the concept of consent. When you talk about teaching five-year-olds about consent, you would be absolutely ludicrous to think that a kindergarten teacher like myself would walk into a classroom and say "Okay boys and girls, we are going to talk about consent today. Do you know what it means to consent to sex?"
That will not happen. Here's what will happen: Students will learn about consent in a non sexual way -- can I use your toy? Let's look at his response -- both the verbal and nonverbal response. Students will learn how to respect each other, even when consent is NOT given for something that they want. They will learn what body language and other nonverbal cues might be saying that the words are not. They will learn that they cannot take things they do not own. They will learn to respect the wishes of others. They will learn to communicate yes and no in very concrete terms. They will learn the basic foundation for what will eventually become a sex ed curriculum that teaches about consent in a sexual way. When it comes to a sexual context, the really young kids will learn the things they hopefully already learn: mostly about the private parts of their body and what kind of touch is okay or not okay.
We live in a rape culture with an entitled generation, folks; denying it won't excuse its presence. We have raised kids who receive whatever they want, who have a world of information at their fingertips, and who are exposed to more by junior school than we have seen our entire lives. We created that -- we need to solve that.
Starting sex ed in high school won't work -- it's too late. Saying we need to be better parents, and we need more God, and we need more this or that is fine and may be one solution, but it still is not solving the problem right now and only works unless everyone buys in. Until each and every parent can tell me they have taught their children what consent is and looks like, when sex is okay, what healthy sex looks like, I will continue to support sex ed in our schools -- because there is no way I can raise my daughters in a world of kids who learned about sex from the Internet (or, heaven forbid, a bootlegged copy of Fifty Shades of Grey that a junior high kid downloaded online).
My daughters are too precious for a world like that.
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