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Do Kids Need More Education?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

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Do Kids Need More Education? | Faith Permeating Life

Somehow this turned into Sex Ed Week at Faith Permeating Life... so let's round out the week with one more post.

Macha left this great question on my honeymoon myth post:

Am I crazy or does every post you write really come down to "More education please!!!" ;)

The answer is: Yes and no. (Well, I mean, every post? No. But do I believe kids need more education? Yes and no.)

We put a lot of pressure on our official education system (by which I mean primary and secondary school, either public, private, or homeschool). When I was in college, it seemed like every discussion of a problem stemming from ignorance came down to "kids ought to learn this in school"!

One thing that I do think is missing from most schools is financial literacy. It seems like kids are always asking for practical applications -- "when am I going to use this stuff?" -- and this is one area that I think would be to the benefit of everyone. It wouldn't require adding an additional subject, since it could be taught alongside the relevant math concepts. And I think our English classes could include media literacy when discussing plot and storytelling.

But the truth is, kids already spend a lot of time in school. Despite the push from some corners for longer school hours, I don't think that more time with some of the teachers I had would have done any good. I doubt I would have learned more by spending an extra hour a week with my middle school science teacher whose sole goal in life seemed to be to make us feel as stupid as possible, or with my high school French teacher who spent class reading aloud from a book in French and translating each sentence into English -- after we'd already done that for homework the night before.

For the most part, I don't think *more* education is what's needed. I think it's better education.

As much as I love to rant about the quality of education in this country, for the moment I'm going to stick to my original topic of sex ed.

From both my personal experience and that of others I've talked to, it seems that sex ed curriculum at most schools is treated as a necessary evil.

That is, it is not approached as "We really need to equip kids to be sexually healthy, to feel good about their bodies, and to make intelligent, informed decisions about their sexual activity."

It is instead usually taught in a way that seems to be a reaction of fear and resignation. Fear of kids getting STDs and getting accidentally pregnant -- so let's show them pictures of STDs so they'll be too freaked out to have sex (clearly that's working well). And then, well, if you insist on having sex anyway, here are your options for contraception. (Unless, of course, you're getting abstinence-only education, in which case we'll just use fear and authority to keep you from having sex for as long as possible).

I've already written about what I think good sex ed looks like, so I'm going to try not to repeat myself, but in thinking more about it, I don't think this kind of change can happen until everyone -- teachers, administrators, parents, and everyone else -- starts to think about sex ed differently.

Right now it is based on a kind of deficit model: Here is this problem, so let's throw fear and information at kids to get them to behave the way we want.

I suggest conceptualizing sex ed more like skill-building -- not in the sense of "here's how you put a condom on," but teaching students how to have a conversation about sex before they have it; how to take care of their body and be respectful of their partner's body; for women, how to pay attention to their signs of fertility. And they don't have to learn everything in health class -- let's give kids scripts for talking to their parents and their doctor about sex.

It's not more education, exactly, it's just a different way of thinking about and planning the lessons that are already built into the curriculum.

What is one thing you wished you'd learned in sex ed class? Leave it in the comments!

8 comments:

  1. Absolutely, better education not just more time!! My son attends a school that is in session a bit longer than standard (an extra 45 minutes a day and an extra week a year, with kindergartners attending the full day) but after "Bring Your Parent to School Day" I'm convinced that the time is much better utilized than in the elementary schools I attended, where there was a lot of busy work and sitting around.

    I'm totally with you on sex ed and financial literacy, as I've said before! I think basic cooking and grocery-shopping skills should be taught, too, because it's becoming clear that many of today's adults don't understand these things. In my experience as a Girl Scout leader, kids love to make food from scratch, but many aren't allowed to help with cooking at home (I can't count how many girls I taught to use a sharp knife) or there rarely IS any cooking at home because the family lives on convenience foods.

    My son's school has a small on-site organic garden, and each class spends about 5 hours per year working in it--sounds like very little time, but the lessons learned there have been some of the most memorable for my kid!

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  2. There are 2 things that bother me the most about sex education - and it's mainly with abstinence only sex ed because I didn't receive it at the public high school I went to and only heard it in a Lutheran School 8th grade class and youth group.

    1- I wish they talked about forgiveness and second chances more. I know of a lot of girls who grew up in the church and made a mistake - then had a hard time remembering that they were still loved no matter what and forgiven. We focus so much on "JUST DON'T DO IT OR YOU'LL MAKE THE BABY JESUS CRY!" vs. "We all make mistakes, but Jesus loves and forgives you no matter what."

    2- I wish they had shared that it's OK to have a sexual side. While you knew that sex was good when you were married, you felt guilty because you really wanted to kiss a guy - or even hold his hand. I wish they talked about how "if you really care about someone, physical contact is a natural thing." Like... if you are in love with someone and DON'T want to kiss them - I feel like that's an issue. Now, when you decide to act on that is up to each person and couple. But still... the feeling itself of wanting to kiss someone out of affection isn't wrong.

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  3. @'Becca
    I love reading about the things you've done with your Girl Scout troop. I'm definitely tucking those away for when I'm a parent.

    It sounds like your son goes to a great school. I wish I believed that all schools were moving away from busy work and utilizing time well. Unfortunately I don't think that's the case. I know that my high school French teachers are all still there; my sister starts high school next week and she took my advice and signed up for Spanish instead. I heard they've cracked down on moving schedules around--I used to be able to switch classes ahead of time if I knew a teacher was really awful, but my sister won't be able to do that.

    One of the things I've learned from reading your posts about parenting is that kids can learn things a lot earlier than we might think. There are so many things that American society seems to think you don't need to learn until you're an adult, and that you can then learn them on your own--like financial literacy, cooking, and grocery-shopping skills. My sister is learning to do her own laundry now, which I think is awesome--so many kids are shipped off to college not knowing how to do laundry. I'm not saying that schools need to take on the burden of teaching all life skills, but definitely as a parent I want to make an effort to teach my kids these skills earlier than they're traditionally learned.

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  4. @Emmy
    We focus so much on "JUST DON'T DO IT OR YOU'LL MAKE THE BABY JESUS CRY!"
    Haha, YES, this is exactly what I mean about teaching by fear and authority. I think what bothers me most about abstinence-only sex ed is that it seems to focus on the negative--withholding information--rather than making it as honest and open a conversation as possible. If you really want kids to be abstinent until marriage, you can't ignore their reality--like you said, you have to talk about what happens when you screw up, and the fact that you're not expected to be a sexless being until marriage. There is so much fear about meeting kids where they're at--like I said, I hate that most sex ed curriculum seems to be built out of a total fear of kids having sex.

    That's also why I'm such a proponent of teaching NFP in school, particularly for abstinence-only sex ed (which I'm not a fan of, but if that's where you're starting from...). And I don't mean just talking about it, but literally assigning girls to chart their cycles and boys to interpret them. It's not helpful to just ignore contraceptives altogether or forbid the use of them. NFP teaches a respect for and understanding of the female body, and it's a way to provide more information and skills rather than simply eliminating information and skills taught in comprehensive sex ed.

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  5. One of the things I've learned from reading your posts about parenting is that kids can learn things a lot earlier than we might think.

    Yes, when you show them how to do what you do. In children's books written before about 1960, I notice that it used to be normal for children to be more competent from an earlier age and to learn a lot from parents and older kids (not just siblings but neighbors they met while playing outside). Societal changes are complex, but the one thing I blame most for this transformation is television: In the late 1950s, mothers started to let their kids watch TV all afternoon instead of playing or helping around the house. Those kids grew up into people who "need" TV to keep their kids occupied so they can do things. TV teaches kids things, sure, but often different things than can be learned from real life.

    My son does watch TV, but he's very critical of a lot of shows, and we limit the amount of time he can watch. I also watched some when I was a kid and remember it fondly. But compared to my peers who lived in homes where the TV was always on and watched many shows intended for adults, I knew much less about screwed-up "romantic" behavior and what was the latest hot toy, much more about how to install a towel rack and bake bread and such. It's not just a matter of TV time but of attitude toward the child: "Go watch TV; Mommy is busy," vs. "If you're looking for something to do, help me peel these carrots."

    About sex ed: I think, in addition to the fear approach, there is a tendency to mention sexual urges and pleasure only when boys are involved. Classes for girls often put all the focus on hygiene and avoiding pregnancy. We had separate girls' and boys' sessions in 5th grade (the 8th grade STD class was co-ed) and the girls' was all about menstruation and needing to wear a bra and use deodorant--it did not even acknowledge the existence of external genitalia. At a slumber party that weekend, many of the girls made hesitant comments until it became clearer that none of us was the only one who had those tingling feelings, curiosity about naked boys, non-bloody moisture, etc., and then I and the others who had access to more info felt comfortable explaining that all those things are normal parts of growing up, too, that our school nurse didn't mention.

    I don't mean just talking about it, but literally assigning girls to chart their cycles and boys to interpret them.
    GAAHH!! What?! Would YOU really have wanted to tell your 8th grade teacher all about your vaginal discharge and then have some random boy saying, "Well, I think you ovulated on the 7th"? I wouldn't! If I were teaching the class, I'd hand out the instructions and strongly suggest that girls keep their own charts, but I wouldn't make it homework. I'd get anonymous sample charts for both sexes to interpret.

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  6. @'Becca
    It's not just a matter of TV time but of attitude toward the child: "Go watch TV; Mommy is busy," vs. "If you're looking for something to do, help me peel these carrots."
    Mike and I were talking about this the other day. We don't want to *limit* our kids' TV time in the sense of "You are only allowed one hour a day" because that makes it into this big indulgence, something to crave more of. Instead, we see it as our responsibility as parents not to suggest TV as a go-to activity, but to suggest--and participate in--other activities with our kids. We both felt we had a good balance of TV/video game time and active/imaginative play time without having restrictions put on us.

    Would YOU really have wanted to tell your 8th grade teacher all about your vaginal discharge and then have some random boy saying, "Well, I think you ovulated on the 7th"?
    Haha, fair enough, I didn't explain that very thoroughly. I was more just trying to get at what you said--assigning girls to keep a chart (not to turn in for review, just to do) and assigning boys sample charts to interpret, since they can't keep their own. Because from what I've heard of people who went to Catholic school where NFP was actually mentioned, it was just that--mentioned. An amorphous concept of "this thing you will do when you are married." I think there's a huge benefit to having that actual view of your body going through a cycle (particularly as that's not possible once girls go on the Pill). One of my friends took a class in college that taught about the fertility awareness method and she was asked to chart her cycle for a month. That's what I was thinking of.

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  7. I'm glad we agree about the appropriate way to teach NFP. One of my friends went to a Catholic high school where they did get a detailed explanation of NFP from a chirpy couple who came to promote it, but at the first possible opportunity a student asked the obvious question:
    "How many children do YOU have?"
    "We have seven beautiful--"
    "Ha! Yeah, okay, whatever."
    which I think is a very understandable response when NFP is promoted by people with many children, giving the impression that it doesn't work. I realize some people CHOOSE to have large families and use NFP to space the babies 3 years instead of 18 months apart, but since many people prefer the idea of having approx. 2 children, couples who've succeeded at having 2 using NFP would be wiser choices for promotion.

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  8. @'Becca
    I agree--I've had a hard time finding couples practicing NFP who want a small number of children, though. My theory on this is that most people don't even know about NFP unless they're Catholic, and of the Catholics, most of those who choose to practice NFP do so out of a desire to follow Church teaching, which means subscribing to the notion that you should have a "grave reason" for not trying to get pregnant each month. Among the community online and offline that talks about NFP there seems to also be a lot of social pressure to have many kids. The biggest national teachers of NFP are the Couple-to-Couple League, and I've written before about how their discussion of "responsible parenthood" leans heavily toward being pregnant as often as possible. So I think all of that contributes to there not being a ton of NFP-practicing couples who only want or have a few children.

    Also, for example, I would be happy to talk to kids about NFP, but the only place that would probably want that is a Catholic school, and since I've written openly about how I don't do NFP/sex "correctly," I can imagine I wouldn't be their first choice. Yet, as you said, the couples with so many kids give the impression that NFP doesn't work--which is a shame.

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