Sex education has made it into the presidential campaign, but not in the way I might have hoped.
I'd like to hear more about how sexuality education can be an important component of both educational policy and efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies. When almost nine in 10 Americans support schools' teaching young people about their sexuality, and when more than $1 billion has been spent on ineffective, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs over the last decade, the federal role in sexuality education is surely a topic worth discussing.
Yet it's the derisive comments about sexuality education in kindergarten that are dominating the debate, as if support for such an idea were beyond the pale. It's not. In fact, it is something that more than 150 public health, medical, religious and youth-serving organizations have been advocating for decades.
More than 15 years ago, while I was president of SIECUS the Sexuality and Information Council of the United States, I co-directed the development of Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, Kindgergarten-12th Grade. The guidelines include developmentally appropriate messages for each grade level. At least 20 national religious organizations, including the National Council of the Churches of Christ, support K-12 sexuality education in public schools, and many have their own curricula for the children in their congregations. Our Whole Lives, the sex education curriculum from the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, is a model K-12 program that is being taught in churches across America, kindergarteners and first-graders included. I wish all children received such fundamental and supportive programs.
Sex education in the early primary years sets a foundation for later, more in-depth education. It provides lessons on family roles, taking good care of your body and the correct names of body parts. It helps children feel good about their bodies, their gender and their families. To protect them against sexual abuse, it teaches children "no, go, tell" -- say no, get away, and tell an adult you trust what happened. It promotes parent/child communication around these issues.
A primary school curriculum does not teach five- and six-year-olds about sexual behaviors, contraceptive methods, or indeed anything at all about what most people think of as "sex." To suggest otherwise is a gross political distortion.
My theological commitment to truth telling means that I support sexuality education programs that are age appropriate, medically accurate, and acknowledge parents as the primary educators of their children. I wish political campaigns would make the same commitment.
Follow Rev. Debra Haffner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revdebra