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Inhibiting Education

I was speaking with a co-worker this morning and she was telling me about her son’s recent experience at school. Every year, the school takes the seventh-grade students to a local community health center, divides the boys and girls, and gives each group a presentation on bodily changes (of both sexes) that will soon be happening (if they’re not already). Basically, it’s sex-ed biology… puberty, hormones, etc.

This year, evidently there were some parents who complained that they didn’t want their children subjected to that presentation. My co-worker didn’t know how many parents complained, but her son said that one girl is a (vocal) Christian and her mom complained. It’s probably a safe bet that any parents who complained did so because of their religious beliefs. Granted, there could potentially be other reasons, but it’s unlikely.

Because of the parental complaints, all the students were given a presentation on drug use instead of the planned “Your Developing Body” curriculum. While education about drug use is definitely valuable, it seems to be, given the age of the students, a second-rate substitute.├é┬áLearning about puberty and the biological changes that they’ll be going through is more time-sensitive for that age group than learning about drug use.

I have two issues with this situation.

The first issue is with the school’s handling of the situation. I think the students would have been better served if the school would have simply removed the children of the complaining parents rather than short-changing the entire class. If the parents are worried about their child being “singled out” in that way, they need to weigh their decision carefully. They should not be allowed to penalize the entire class because of their personal beliefs. If they want to penalize their own child, that’s their choice.

That leads me to the second issue I have with the situation and the one that is most relevant to this web site’s theme… religious beliefs hampering education. In this particular example, religious beliefs are keeping a child from learning about the biological changes that are about to start happening in his or her body. Why? Because of the association of puberty to sexual maturity? Because of the acknowledgement of hormones and their effect on sexuality? Because of the implication that puberty and biological sexual maturity will lead to sexual promiscuity?

It seems that the solution of the parents in question is to avoid the subject… at least to avoid any school-provided, scientific information about the subject. Now it’s possible that these parents are having a scientifically accurate, family discussion with their children, explaining the biological changes that are going to happen and the associated feelings that will accompany those changes. But it that likely? Based on anecdotal evidence, no. Based on the statements and actions of stoutly religious people all over the country (and the world), no. Based on the popularity (and abysmal failure) of abstinence-only education, no.

It ultimately hurts the child in question by withholding important information about his or her own body. In the case of my co-worker’s school, it ends up harming all the students by withholding that information from the entire class based on one person’s beliefs. In all seriousness, I wonder what information is being substituted by the religious parents and I wonder how they can possibly justify cheapening their child’s education because of their beliefs in two-thousand year old dogma.

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