As in my previous post, I am focussing this post on the Health curriculum in the junior grades, as this is relevant to both of my practicum placements this year.
Fact 1: Sexual health is a part of public education that makes people incredibly uncomfortable.
Teachers, parents, administrators, and students are all made uncomfortable by notions of “the talk” and “SexEd Class”. Now, if we were going to critique this response to gender and sex talk, we might hypothesize that our own discomfort as educators/parents/administrators is because we learned culturally that sex is a taboo topic – not to be discussed. In elementary school we received minimal information in a very gendered discussion about what it meant to be a girl/boy, and then in secondary school we were buried in pamphlets of what not to do: Don’t have sex, don’t do drugs, and the first rule of fight club is…. Now, where is the teaching in that? I’m having a hard time finding it.
Fact 2: Our students today have the internet as a fall-back resource for the things that we can’t (or won’t) explain to them.
When our students ask us a question about how an iPod turns kilobytes of 0’s and 1’s into the revered lyrics of Beyoncé and our answer is unsatisfactory, they turn to the almighty Google and ask her for answers, to which she responds with millions of results. When our students ask us about sexuality and gender, where do we want their information to come from? Consider what interesting images Google presents when you search for “Spears” in the event that you need more proof that Google cannot be responsible for educating our children.
In her article “Sex on the Carpet”, Ciwko discusses her experience with a pilot project to bring new resources into the sexual health curriculum. Ciwko shares her experience brilliantly, and the anecdotes that she shares about her classroom are very real examples of common concerns and questions of junior students regarding this topic. Underneath the anecdotes, Ciwko makes a very important point: it is our responsibility as educators to be knowledgeable, approachable, and brave when it comes to approaching sexual health, when addressing the curriculum and more importantly when addressing the out-of-the-blue questions. Ciwko writes “As teachers we make choices every day. What we leave in a lesson, what we take out. What we make time for, what we make disappear”, and I completely agree. It is our responsibility to teach our students what they need to know, and to ensure that they’re getting the correct information. We are responsible for being an ally to students who don’t identify with the cultural “norms”, or who have family matters that exist outside its limitations. We could be responsible for changing the taboo that surrounds gender and sexuality in education, but first we have to be brave enough to establish the dialogue. As educators, we place our students as our highest priority in all aspects; why should this be any different?
Here’s a quotation from the H&PE Curriculum that I found meaningful in the context of this post. It’s taken from the Grade 5 Curriculum Expectations for Making Healthy Choices:
“describe emotional and interpersonal stresses related to puberty (e.g., … conflicts between personal desires and cultural teachings and practices)” (p.158).
It would be easy for us to sit in our Armchairs and call ourselves Anthropologists and teach children about the gender and sexuality practices in a far away land. But if we want to be responsible educators, I don’t think we can do that. I think it’s time for us to have the conversations about our own cultural practices and the conflicts that some of our students may be experiencing; I think we owe it to our kids.