I want to invite you — yes, you — to put one of these words next to your name, like this:
“ __________ (your name) is a champion.”
Feels good, right?
Now imagine if it said “__________ (your name) is a champion for comprehensive sexuality education.”
How does that feel? Is that statement true today? Can you imagine it ever being true?
I hope so, because we need people like you to advocate for sex ed.
We need brave people to stand up at school board meetings and say that they think young people deserve to get real information about their bodies and about their development.
We need advocates who can speak up about how LGBTQIA-inclusive sex ed lessons make our schools better for everyone.
We need educators who can help the public learn that realistic, skills-based sexuality education is one of the best tools we have for preventing sexual assault.
Disagreements about sex ed in schools are nothing new in the United States. For decades, a lot of federal funding has supported “abstinence-only” programs — now often called “sexual risk avoidance.” The thing is, there is overwhelming evidence that these programs fail to keep anyone abstinent or safe.
The alternative that is backed by research is comprehensive sexuality education – a curriculum that includes information about abstinence, but also provide young people with medically accurate information about human anatomy, birth control options, sexually transmitted infections, safer sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual choices.
We know this kind of education works, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how supportive parents are to this approach.
The first time I met parents at a back-to-school night and told them that I would soon be teaching their 9th graders about condoms and pregnancy prevention, I expected some might be upset. I didn’t expect what actually happened, which is that a bunch of parents came up to shake my hand, saying things like, “Thank you so much for teaching my daughter about that stuff. I know she needs to learn it, but I just don’t know what to say.”
Studies show that the vast majority of American adults are in support comprehensive sex education, but that’s not always reflected in what’s being taught in the classroom. There is lots of room for change on this issue. Find out what’s being taught in your community, and if you don’t like it, advocate for change.
Advocates for Youth has some great advice about how to do this. Take a look at the newly updated National Sexuality Education Standards for ideas about what should be taught, and check out some of the wonderful curriculum that is available free online, like Be Real. Be Ready. and 3Rs: Rights, Respect, Responsibility.
If the laws in your state need to change, take a look at California’s Health Youth Act, which requires districts for teach comprehensive sex ed at middle school and high school, as a model.
This work requires champions, advocates, supporters and cheerleaders. Please consider speaking up!
Christopher Pepper, a.k.a. “Mr. Health Teacher,” is an award-winning writer and teacher who has been helping bring high-quality health education to students in San Francisco public schools for 18 years. He helped create Be Real. Be Ready., the district’s groundbreaking sexuality education curriculum, and regularly trains teachers to use those lessons. He has been featured in USA Today, Mother Jones, and National Public Radio, and has written about health education issues for Edutopia, The San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times. Follow him on Twitter.
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