(this cartoon originally appeared on Advocates for Youth)
Imagine yourself as a ten-year-old blissfully walking to school; kicking pebbles as you go, listening to the birds, thinking about recess, kickball, and what’s in your lunch. Then invading your world booms the authoritative voice of the school counselor, “Ejaculation can happen during sexual intercourse, when the penis is inside the woman’s vagina. It can also happen while a boy is sleeping. This is called a nocturnal emission or ‘wet dream.’”
Explicit? Yes! Make you a little uncomfortable? Perhaps! How do you think it makes a 10-year old feel? This quote is from a curriculum given to children in a coeducation class at Boone Elementary - my daughter’s public school in KC, Missouri. It was told to Laura, then 10, without her having asked and without my knowledge or consent.
My husband, Paul, and I became informed one evening when Laura brought home her permission form in which she scrawled an emphatic, “No!” Asked why, Laura described her embarrassment and disgust at having to sit through the counselor’s comments on “breasts and breastmilk.”
Over dinner, we expanded our questions about the presentation and Laura’s thoughts and feelings. Thinking she had absentmindedly left the permission form in her backpack I asked, “When was it given to you?” Then, Laura’s bombshell reply, “When we were leaving the presentation.” Paul and I realized that our daughter was made uncomfortable in a guidance class she did not request and in which we had no foreknowledge.
So we called the school to learn what was being taught as “guidance curriculum.” After discussions with the counselor and principal, my husband and I informed several parents. They, like us, were unaware of the curriculum and naturally, had strong opinions. Some parents hadn’t even seen a parental permission form. We all met with the counselor, principal, and district’s Director of Personnel to share our concerns.
Many issues surrounded the curriculum and its implementation. We shared our daughter’s embarrassment, asking the counselor to consider a young girl’s feelings. Every parent objected to a coed environment for sexual instruction in elementary school.
One parent disapproved of schools doling out these intimate facts maintaining her right to be her child’s sex educator. The callous disregard for parental rights to informed consent had each parent righteously indignant. We questioned why the “teachable moments” philosophy is not applied to sex education.
I reminded these educators of the “too much too soon” practice of overloading kids with particulars before they are ready. My daughter’s knowledgeable counselor forgot - or never learned - child development. That the frontal lobe of the human brain, which controls reasoning, social conscience, and judgment, develops gradually and isn’t fully functional until the early teens. Therefore, children may get the sex facts but have limited ability to apply them to appropriate behaviors.
It was a tense yet productive confrontation. Reluctantly, these administrators agreed to suspend teaching the curriculum until they canvassed all parents with permission forms. Further, they agreed to release permission forms with a lengthy notice so parents could preview materials and make an informed choice on their child’s participation.
Additionally, the school board, upon hearing of our concerns, began a policy to forever correct this oversight. To adopt a policy that permission forms are given with a standard two-week notice would protect the rights of the parents - who advocate for their children.
Parents, be ever vigilant in protecting your rights. Be knowledgeable of what is going on in your child’s classroom and school. Ask questions, keep up communication with the teacher, attend PTA and school board meetings, and get to know your school administrators.
Always be an advocate for your child. She is depending on you to protect her from unwanted sexual information whether it’s from the public school, the media, or an individual. Children learn better only when they feel safe and comfortable.
As a parent, I encourage you to adopt the prayer of Robert Louis Stevenson, “Give us the strength to encounter that which is to come.”
©1999, Brenda Nixon
Brenda Nixon (www.brendanixon.com) is a speaker, author, educator and mom. Her book Parenting Power in the Early Years is available at amazon.com and her website.