While perusing my Twitter feed, I came across Rebecca Zamon’s Huffpost Canada blog supporting the new Canadian (specifically Ontario) curriculum for health and physical education. Why? Because, among other things, it’s important for kids to know the proper names of all their body parts and what kinds of physical changes to expect as they approach puberty.
As the author notes:
There’s a reason people joke about kids playing “doctor” — it’s because kids are curious about their bodies, and the feelings they get from them, as much as adults are. They just don’t have the knowledge to help them along the way. So hey, wouldn’t it be great if they could get that someplace safe and educational, like say, school?
In Western culture we generally assume that the purpose of school is to prepare children for life. Sexuality is a huge part of human life, encompassing everything from procreation, marriage/relationship expectations, emotions, fantasy, desire, and illness-prevention, as well as related topics like gender identity, feelings of acceptance, and body image. Since kids aren’t necessarily getting sex education at home or from the other parts of culture that they come into contact with, it makes sense that schools would fill this vacuum.
Further, Zamon explains:
What people who oppose everything from the use of the word “vagina” to discussing sex in the classroom seem to be missing is that putting these subjects into the same context that teaches long division and the capitals of Canada normalizes the topic of sex, in all its aspects.
Kids learn all kinds of things at school, and it’s pretty much only in the realm of sex education that people freak out about kids wanting to reenact what’s been presented in the classroom. Do parents wig out about their kids wanting to enact historically-inspired rebellions, or wanting to suddenly inject mathematical equations into every dinner conversation? Do they worry about their kids suddenly speaking in iambic pentameter? Yes, those are silly examples, but surely there are other dangerous things that kids learn at school – physics and chemistry among them – that aren’t seen as being quite so threatening as sex education.
In the end, it seems to me that the greatest fears of kids being information sponges and imitators revolve around behavior to which we attach moral value and stigma. I’m not saying that we should divorce moral value from sex or sex education, but rather that it seems a tad disingenuous to me to pretend that school is all about preparing kids for life, except in this one really important area where they’re not easily able to get accurate information anywhere else. And it also seems a tad hypocritical to assume that kids will only be “monkey see, monkey do” about sex and not about any of the other dozens of subjects they’ll learn about in school.