Tuesday, May 4, 2010



A few weeks ago my sons, 10 and 11 years old, asked me to help them with their homework. “Sure,” I said, “What do you need?”, thinking it’s probably a question about fractions or spelling. I was thrown for loop when they said, “We have to do a paper on HIV/AIDS. Can you help us?”

Now, I like to think that I'm a pretty hip parent but my intial reaction was straight panic. “What?! Why are they learning this? They don’t need to know this! Oh jeez, my babies are growing up. Nooooooo!”

But I calmed down and realized that yes; I do want them to learn about HIV/AIDS. And was thankful that the school was covering it, because we hadn’t gotten that far in our talks yet. So this was a nice segue for us to continue the conversation at home.

But for many parents this is not cool, convenient or wanted. They do not want schools teaching anything about sex, contraception, pregnancy, etc. Many parents, politicians and lawmakers feel that this crosses a line. That sex and related topics should be taught only parents in the home.

An extreme example of this is a letter sent from a District Attorney in Wisconsin to local school districts, threatening the possible arrest of teachers who teach the state mandated sex education curriculum, stating that to do so was to contribute to the delinquency of a minor.


If you read through the actual memo (http://cnnac360.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/wisconsin-memo.pdf) it becomes clear that the D.A. and his supporters are terrified that informed children = amoral children. Which makes no sense to me. If we want our children to avoid a potentially dangerous situation, it is our responsibility to arm them the knowledge and tools to do so. No matter how uncomfortable that makes us.

So yes, I’m a fan of sex education in the schools. The keys are 1. To teach it in sensitive and age appropriate manner (i.e. kindergartners learn that no one is to touch their private parts and high schoolers learn about contraception and abstinence) and 2. To realize that sex education in the classroom is only most effective when it becomes a springboard for a bigger conversation that takes place at home. Otherwise, as noted in a 2001 survey published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, ‘most studies of school based and school linked health centers revealed no effect on student sexual behavior or contraceptive use.’

The surprising thing to note is that, at least here in New York City, that ‘schools do not have to use [the NY Dept of Educations’] curriculum, they just have to meet the state standards….they can use their own curriculum as long as it meets those requirements.’, (Marge Feinberg, spokesperson for the NYC Dept of Ed). And though the state standards include a comprehensive sex education component, it is only recommended. The required curriculum does teach an understanding of healthy choices, but says nothing specific about sexual health.

So before you jump off the deep end at the thought of your child learning the birds and bees from his gym/health teacher, 1. Find out what exactly your state and school curriculum teaches. It may not be what you think it is. And 2. though the school may start the conversation, be sure that you, the parent/guardian, finishes it. It takes a village to raise a child but no one can shape and influence that child the way their immediate family can.


Alysia C.

Email us: getdownpsa2008@gmail.com

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