Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Student perspective: Useful education in health classes is essential to raise awareness

From Silver Chips Online, Montgomery Blair High School's newspaper:
Clair Briggs, Page Editor

After years of having the same, repetitive, common knowledge taught in health classes, the Board of Education (BOE) has finally realized that times have changed, and health education needs to catch up.

On Nov. 9, the BOE made two much-needed improvements to the sex education curriculum that will raise teen awareness about sexuality. The BOE approved a video, "Protect Yourself," showing a University of Maryland peer educator demonstrating how to apply a condom to a cucumber. In addition, a pilot program about homosexuality was also approved for inclusion in the Family Life and Human Development Unit. These additions are essential because they give teens the opportunity to receive an unbiased education on safe sex that will help prevent the spread of sexual disease and diminish stereotypes regarding homosexuals. Without them, the curriculum fails to address these important issues.

Unfortunately, both the video and the pilot program have sparked great hostility, much of which is unjustified. Many of the new curriculum's opponents disagree with the changes because of religious beliefs and conflicting views on what is acceptable, due in large part to generational differences. They also believe that this education should be left only to the parents.

On, parent Keith White writes that all members of the school board who supported and voted for homosexuality to be included in the curriculum should be recalled. "What good can come out of teaching our children gross lies about homosexuality?" he asks.

However, what White and his supporters fail to realize is that the point of the curriculum is not to teach "lies" it is to discuss stereotypes and misconceptions on sexual orientation in an effort to diminish discrimination. Homosexuality is avoided and rarely accepted in a majority of homes in the U.S. Religion is the main reason for this. The teachings of the Church are that homosexuality is a sin since it cannot naturally generate new life.

However, no matter what an individual's views are concerning homosexuality, homosexuals do exist. More than six hundred thousand homosexual families exist in the U.S. alone, according to a 2000 survey by the Census Bureau.

Steps like this new curriculum are vital to work toward a more tolerant America. Just as religion is an argument against including homosexuality in the curriculum, it is also an argument against including the condom video.

Premarital sex is condemned in many religions. According to health teacher Susan Soulé, parents argue that the video will promote premarital sex in their children. However, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young teens rank entertainment media as their top source of information regarding sexual activities and sexual health. According to Planned Parenthood, factors like gender, age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion and individual life experience all influence when teenagers decide to become sexually active. Many adolescents also resort to sex to increase their self-image or because of social expectations, or even to escape from anger or boredom.

Throughout the unit, abstinence is mentioned as the safest method of preventing pregnancy and STDs. Not all children will chose to abstain from sex, however. The video was not developed to promote sex, it was developed to educate students who decide to have sex on an effective way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), according to the Montgomery County School Health Council. In the U.S., one in four sexually active teens becomes infected with an STD each year, according to a study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Statistics this high should cry out to parents to educate their children on means of prevention.

Parents also argue that schools are overstepping their boundaries with the new health curriculum and that it should remain a parent's responsibility to teach his or her child about sexuality and homosexuality. However, sexuality is rarely a comfortable topic of discussion in households. Having this instruction in the classroom dissolves these barriers.

Students need to learn how to protect themselves. "What parent would want to sentence their child to death by not doing everything possible to prevent them from getting HIV?" Soulé asks. Parents and children have different perspectives on what is acceptable sexually, and students often talk about sex very openly compared to their generally conservative parents. Kids today do not even understand the controversy surrounding the condom video, according to Soulé. "Everything was different. In their parents' youth, condoms were behind the counter hidden in a drawer. Now you can just walk right in a store and condoms are sitting down the aisle," she says.

Another difference between the generations is that today teenagers are much more likely to engage in oral sex because they believe it to be safer than intercourse, says Soulé. Although girls can only become pregnant vaginal intercourse, all partners who engage in oral sex or anal sex are susceptible to infection. According to Planned Parenthood, 25 percent of virgin boys and 15 percent of virgin girls have engaged in oral sex. Every hour, two adolescents under the age of 21 become infected with HIV, according to a study by the Office of National AIDS Policy. The same study also showed that adolescents between the ages of 13 and 21 now account for 25 percent of newly reported HIV infections.

Health class will not be the deciding factor in students' minds regarding whether they will have sex or accept homosexuality; they will simply discuss the facts. Sex and homosexuality are real issues, affecting teenagers throughout the world, and the repercussions of uneducated decisions can be deadly.

On Silver Chips' web site:


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