Not By the Book: Musing About My Sex Ed Class
SIECUS's (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) SexEdLibrary page
There seem to be gaps in teaching and learning that are made by those habits of society and custom and plain laziness that we should to try to bridge. Certainly lessons as such are necessary, but the curriculum needs imagination and revision. While working for certification in the state where I was teaching as a substitute in a public high school, my class was assigned a paper on Sex Education.
It's only fair to say that my own experience with this was nearly unique. The school I attended from grades one through twelve did a number of things differently from other institutions. Therefore, the place I’m coming from, as the modern saying is, may be a bit foreign to begin with.
In the seventh grade we had a course called Human Physiology. Our teacher was known for using college texts and for his rigorous requirements to excel in his classes. Human physiology used articles from various sources and diagrams from medical texts. Each physical system was studied separately: the digestive system, circulatory system, skeletal system, nervous system, reproductive system. At the time I was in the class, the RH factor in blood types had just been discovered.
Questions were raised and answered. If the teacher thought questions weren't being asked that should be answered, he would bring them up. Thus, while learning about the reproductive systems and how they differed between male and female, we were given information about birth control as it was available and understood at the time, as well as STDs. The approach was purely scientific, and the mixed class took it all in without any psychological trauma I can recall.
To this day, I think that is sex education for the classroom. On the other hand, I understood what was supposed to be the focus of a paper for a master's degree in education. By the time I received the assignment, I was the mother of two teenage boys and a slightly younger girl. I was irritated, to say the least. It was perfectly clear to me that I couldn't write anything reasonable to address the subject in the mode of what was called (may still be) 'sex education' in a coeducational public school. The professor had made a tacit challenge to address the problem at something deeper than the curriculum level, or so I thought.
So much that I recall from school is outside the formal monologue of a teacher in front of a class. What sticks effortlessly is what is shown rather than said, demonstrated often unconsciously before students who are likely unaware they've noticed anything at the time. From this distance, I can say for certain that the facts of reproduction aren't what constitute the most important information. Long before feminism became a loaded word, children were absorbing simplistic stereotypes that were acceptable because not enough people around them ever thought to do anything but follow the lead of habit.
Perhaps educators are freed up to some extent by the dictates of political correctness – one buzzword after another! – but it should be possible to make future guides for children and young adults that consider the subtleties of attitude that can make the difference between courtesy (in the most archaic and literal sense), respect, awareness become the behavior that will enable the men and women of the future to have a true feeling of fellowship without competition based on gender.
If we're to teach the teachers that way, how can it be done if not in a classroom? Fair question. The point is that those in charge of helping the growth of other minds could be instructed on how to offer examples and suggest how people best learn to get along everywhere sexes are mixed, which is to say, everywhere the journey of their lives leads them.
Nobody is without sex; nobody fails to notice it. Learning how to be at ease with it is as necessary as learning how to listen when someone speaks, to remember to check the traffic light before crossing a street, to make sure coffee isn't too hot to gulp. Why should one of the most fundamental skills of living be supposed to find its grounding in a few months in a school classroom?
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