When I was in grade school and what we now call middle school, we did not have sex education at all since, as far as we knew, no one ever discussed sex, and certainly not schoolteachers. So, my first introduction to that topic came from one of my best friends who was what my mother called “precocious.” Betsy, an alias, was on the cutting edge of everything despite her tender age, but when she informed me about the birds and the bees, I thought it was the most unbelievable story I had ever heard.
Who on earth would want to do that?
Still, Betsy did know a lot about a lot, so I did not discount her information altogether. When my mother eventually got around to “the talk,” I was less interested in what she had to say than in the fact that Betsy got the whole thing pretty much right. This was decades before we heard the word internet or imagined carrying around personal communication devices.
The Betsys of the adolescent set often get things wrong, though, and they are not the most reliable source for sex education. That, of course, is parents, caretakers and other trusted and reliable adults in a young person’s life. For reasons we all understand circling around awkwardness and embarrassment, such open communication does not happen in too many young lives.
That is why the Cumberland County Board of Education’s decision to scrap Get Real, a sex education curriculum with a proven and verified track record, is so distressing. The board bowed to pressure from parents whose agenda is not providing accurate information about human sexuality to adolescents. As Opie Taylor would say, the board has more “xplaining” to do about tossing a nationally vetted program for a locally generated and therefore locally influenced one.
Here is the deal with Get Real.
It is a sex ed curriculum developed by the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and has been in use for 10 years. Fact: no matter what you may think you know about Planned Parenthood, for more than a century its primary mission is and has been health education and reproductive health care for women, men and young people of both genders. Get Real provides medically accurate and ageappropriate information to sixth- to eighth-graders, adolescents just beginning to think about sex and likely with limited access to relevant information.
Get Real’s curriculum fosters parental and caregiver involvement and aims to delay sexual activity among young people. It also emphasizes healthy relationships – what they look like and what they do not, the hazards of peer pressure and the importance of consent. It promotes communication among families and friends, especially between young people and parents and other adults important in their lives. It is not a how-to manual nor does it suggest that sexual activity is appropriate at a young age.
No one thinks for a second that members of the Cumberland County Board of Education want to harm the students in our system in any way. The reality, though, is that young people with emerging sensibilities are hungry for all sorts of information, including and especially about sex. Providing such information in a neutral and tested format that encourages adult input, reduces the stress on both young people and adults and becomes a vehicle for more open communication.
Not providing sex education in such a way threatens to leave young people with incomplete or even inaccurate information; it’s a dangerous way to head into young adulthood in a highly sexualized national culture.
Consider your sex education. Maybe you got it in school. Maybe your parents or another trusted adult did a great job. More likely it came, at least in part, from your own personal Betsy who may or may not have known of which she spoke.
Our Cumberland County Board of Education is responsible for educating our young people in all sorts of ways, including accurate and complete information about human sexuality. This is not a topic to be left to the Betsys, cable television or – heaven forbid! – the internet.