As a conservative Christian with deep experience in the Dallas ISD system and a mentor for teenage moms, I believe that public education is critical in the effort to reduce teen pregnancy.
In early September, the State Board of Education will cast initial votes on health education minimum curriculum standards, which includes sex education. Several expert workgroups have written draft language for the new standards, and the good news is that these proposed standards, if adopted, will be beneficial to Texas students.
The standards that the SBOE will vote on next week include language on contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted infections. Properly presented, age-appropriate, medically-accurate and evidence-based information is vital for any health issue. I agree that abstinence is the number one preference; but youngsters need to have a fuller picture of their options, choices, and consequences. Many, if not most, young people do not receive accurate information about sex at home. Too many kids get their sex education from other adolescents or the internet.
The proposed standards also include language about consent, including setting personal boundaries and respecting other people’s boundaries. In my view, the issues of dignity and respect arise from the religious, biblical principle of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”* “Loving yourself” is half of the basis of Consent. Many young people, boys as well as girls, do not have a strong sense of self-worth, so they turn to sexual activity as an attempt to find love from other people. “Loving your neighbor” is the other half of Consent. As kids learn about setting personal boundaries, they also learn about respecting the boundaries set by others. Respecting boundaries is an antidote to sexual harassment and sexual coercion. This is part and parcel of the #MeToo movement.
Unfortunately, the proposed standards do not address inclusivity for LGBTQ, not even in the context of preventing bullying or teaching respect for these youth.While some religious traditions object strongly to anything to do with LGBTQ issues, most religions would still support the biblical command to love your neighbors and treat them with dignity and respect. And, for young people struggling with same-sex/gender identity issues, an educational milieu that fosters dignity and respect can be literally life-saving.
These principles can be taught by sensitive teachers. It’s also possible that the concepts from school can be a source of conversation in a student’s home and can even lead to improved relationships within families. Just as creative and compassionate teachers can help kids connect the dots between self-worth, boundaries, respect, and consent, parents can build on the school lessons and link them to their own ethics, morals and religious convictions.
It is a rare and precious opportunity to use public education curriculum to influence adolescents in a positive way regarding their decisions about sexual activity. There is much to be done by families, the faith community, and educators. SBOE members should implement the proposed revisions to the Sexual Health Education TEKS, with the addition of inclusive language teaching respect for all, regardless of sexual orientation. It is a wonderful step in the right direction.