It was the first week of middle school for 12- year- old Maddie. She was excited, but nervous to start the adventure of middle school. Just as the tardy bell rang, Maddie slid into her seat at the front of the class. The class began with the ordinary introduction of material, including a “getting to know you” survey. As she filled out the survey, Maddie was surprised to see a question asking students which pronouns they preferred. The survey also asked if the school could share that information with their parents.
Across the street, high-schoolers were being presented with a worksheet entitled, “The Gender Unicorn.” The worksheet was supposed to teach students about the differences between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and physical vs. emotional attraction. In a school that requires parent signatures for watching movies rated anything over PG, gender education was taking place without parental consent or knowledge.
The Debate: Moral vs. Secular
With the introduction of the Equality Act, incorporating sex and gender education in schools became a hotly debated topic. Of course, there are strong arguments for both sides of the issue, and the debate has left many communities divided. Educators are being asked to teach about a topic that covers both secular and moral principles. On the other hand, parents are mad about being left in the dark when it comes to the sex education of their children.
Our country is at a crossroads when it comes to the gender and sex education of our children. Whatever your views on gender and sexuality, our children are growing up in a society that includes pronouns and genders beyond he/she, male/female. Carrie Hunt clearly stated the issue when she said, “what once brought purpose, clarity, definition and identity to a child both individually and socially, now comes in so many varieties that many children struggle to find their grounding.”
What Can We Do?
So how do we help children find their footing? Should schools continue to push such education without parental consent in the name of protecting and leading children? Should parents try to shelter their kids from such education because only two genders really exist?
It seems the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Having a healthy understanding of sexuality and gender is crucial to finding purpose, clarity, and identity in life. Because of this, it’s important for children to receive some form of education on the topic. Parents and educators tend to see eye to eye on this. Over 93 % of parents feel that sex education is important for their middle and high school students. And 33 states have emphasized the importance of sex education by mandating it for public schools. The division then comes down to the lack of curriculum transparency between the school and parents. Surprisingly, only 5 of the 33 states that mandate sex education require parental consent in order for children to receive instruction.
Even though parents want their kids to learn about sex, many families fail to teach their children in the home. Data shows that this vital instruction is not occurring often enough. Maybe this is because parents don’t know how to appropriately broach these topics with their children. That being said, national surveys find that nearly all teenagers have received sex education by the age of 18. Where do they get this education? Through public schools. Since gender and sexuality education isn’t happening in the majority of homes, public educators have taken upon themselves the role of teaching kids about sex.
Schools & Parents Working Together
For the most part, we can agree that parents and educators have the child’s best interest in mind. While parents are generally responsible for instilling moral values and religious beliefs in their children, schools are responsible for teaching secular subjects. But gender and sexuality education encompasses both secular and moral teachings.
Because of this, the best solution involves clearly defining the boundary between the two. With the ever-changing terms and ideas children encounter, schools should first and foremost encourage parents to be the preeminent voice in teaching their kids about sex. In addition, parents and schools must work together to decide on appropriate sex education curriculum. As parents and schools work together to establish an honest, transparent relationship, they will be able to clearly define the line between public sex education and private sex education. This open and transparent communication is vital in order to teach sex education in a way that allows our children to find purpose, clarity, and identity both at home and at school.
Laura Ellis is a Junior at BYU-Idaho studying Marriage, Family, and Human Relations. As a mother of eight, she is passionate about child and family advocacy. She has actively worked within her community to help change policies that threaten children and the family.
This is a big year for my family as we have all four children in school. Eleanor, (age 5) in particular started Kindergarten. She was so dang excited! Several times a day for a couple of weeks she would ask, “Does school start tomorrow?”
Not too long before this, my wife and I worried a bit about how Eleanor would handle this transition; in the past, she’s been slow to warm up to new things. After several days of asking about school starting, it was clear that it was going to be harder on Mom than on Eleanor.
The night before school started, Eleanor (and her sisters) laid out their school clothes and filled their backpacks with notebooks, pencils, and other school supplies. It almost seemed like Christmas Eve!
But why all the excitement? What is there to look forward to?
Certainly being with friends and wearing new clothes played into it. But deeper than that, I could tell that Eleanor was excited to learn. Learn more about reading, writing, drawing, basic math and much more!
But how many older children share the same passion for learning? What about us parents? You don’t need a research study to tell you that there is a connection between age and excitement. The older a child is, the less excited they probably are about school. Herein lies a key difference.
Learning and school are not the same thing in the mind of many students. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s unfortunately the reality of kids and schools today. Professor of education and author, Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., believes that we are all born hungry to learn and creative, but it is educated and tested out of us. He elaborates below:
So, at the beginning of this school year, how do we keep the love of learning alive in our children and in ourselves (sometimes in spite of the school system)? There are plenty of options, but I’ll get you started with 3 principles to focus on.
1. Focus on Learning, Not Grades!
Alfie Kohn will introduce this principle below:
As Dr. Kohn discusses, getting caught up in performance can distract from actual learning. When you talk to your children about their subjects and classes, ask them about what they are learning and how it applies to life. Ask them about their efforts in the class. If your son brags about his A in math and how easy it was (like my son did), say something like: “I’m so glad you enjoy math! What did you like learning about the most?” Professor Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, counsels that parents should respond: “I’m sorry it was too easy and didn’t push you. Maybe we should try a higher level math where you can learn more.”
2. Get into Their Head.
One of my children kept telling us that there was no homework assigned in one of their classes and so we didn’t push it. When the report card finally came we saw a “C” in the class. (Here is where you are probably thinking I am going to be grade-focused….wrongo!)
So we sat down and asked some of the following questions: “Was this class really hard for you? Did you give your best effort? What did you learn?” Although we didn’t ask all these questions at once, we did learn that there had been a lot of homework not completed. Even more importantly we learned about how this child struggled with the subject and felt incompetent.
We kept the focus on learning and worked with them the next semester to incorporate better studying practices.
Sometimes we assume we know how our children learn and process different topics. While there is some truth to this, if we are not aware of what our children are learning at school, the homework they are assigned, how they feel about it and why, and the teaching style of their teachers . . . we won’t really know.
3. Have a Healthy Appetite Yourself.
Let’s say you prepare a meal for your family that you find quite disgusting, but you know it is healthy so you prepare it anyway. Now try to convince your children how good the food is while they see you choking it down. Kind of a hard sell.
The same goes for learning. If your kids never see you reading, developing a new skill, or just plain excited about new facts and ideas, then this tells us what they will learn about learning. In fact, one educational expert says that the most successful students have parents who model “a lifelong interest in learning.” So rekindle your love for learning by taking a community class, watch TED talks or documentaries, watch Do-It-Yourself (DIY) YouTube videos, take up gardening, or anything that gets you excited again!
Real learning will fuel your children’s development, and it will make you a better parent. It can increase life satisfaction and make for a better society. Stay curious. Stay hungry.
Welcome back to school!
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