First, let me begin by reaffirming there is much to praise in our school’s reproductive health curriculum. Greater understanding around biological changes, anatomy, pregnancy, STDs, bullying, peer pressure and drawing healthy boundaries are all topics I believe our children should be armed with. I take no issue with these topics and am pleased they constitute a majority of the curriculum.
I also want to recognize the delicate nature of the work our teachers and school leaders are engaged in around this effort. The tentative balance between parental sensibilities and delivering this potentially controversial content can’t be easy.
Yes, I know state law says parents can simply opt their children out of a portion or the entire curriculum. While this practice may selectively shelter one child here and there, I’m not convinced this is the best option, since it still leaves the rest of their friends and peers exposed.
Thus, this larger conversation.
As a parent who was slow to investigate the reproductive health curriculum, I can testify to the high probability that many (most?) parents haven’t gone through the material. This was certainly the case with another parent I recently spoke with. They had digested the summaries mailed out last Friday and felt they had a good handle on what was being taught. When I asked if they had actually logged into the school website and reviewed the full content, they admitted they hadn’t.
Summaries, by their nature, do not give the full picture.
However, while I commend the reproductive health panel for their communication attempts, this note is not about how they can improve curriculum transparency or better engage busy parents.
I opened this discussion referencing a concern around Advocacy for Youth. To be more specific, I am concerned that the Advocacy for Youth curriculum seems to evangelize gender dysphoria.
Dealing Honestly with Gender Dysphoria
For example, in the 7th grade module called “I Am Who I Am” from 3rs.org, the problem can be distilled into what is basically a “feelings are reality” belief system. Here is an excerpt from a “Myth vs. Fact” quiz our students will take. The answer key under each question tells us what Advocacy for Youth would have our teachers say:
Q1. People can choose their sexual orientation.
A: Myth or Fact? Myth. Sexual orientation has to do with the gender(s) of the people we’re attracted to, physically and romantically. We don’t choose our feelings just like we don’t choose who we find attractive. What we CAN choose is whether to act on those feelings, as well as what we call ourselves based on those feelings (our identity).
Q2: People can choose their gender identity.
A: Myth or Fact? Myth. Just like sexual orientation, a person doesn’t choose to feel male, female or a combination of both. What we CAN choose is what we call ourselves, even if it doesn’t match our physical body (male, female, transgender, etc.).
In both of these questions, the student is told,
- their feelings just happen to them and
- their feelings drive their identity.
This is dangerous ground. If our identity is driven by our feelings, the following examples become all too real:
- Those suffering from low self-esteem become right; they really have low or no value.
- Those with overblown self-esteem also become right; they really are better than everyone else.
Feelings are fickle. Our world offers plenty of examples where people felt certain about something, only to later find their feelings changed or were just flat wrong. High divorce rates, a myriad of scams played upon the hopeful masses and “friendly fire” on the battlefield all pay testimony to this.
Please don’t get me wrong. Feeling like an alien in your own body must be awful. But do we normalize and even promote it? If I had a son who thought he was Napoleon, would the loving response be to bend reality to meet his illusion? Or is it more loving to get him counseling?
We are called to love and support people wrestling with dysphoria; not better establish the dysphoria. This goes for all dysphoria, regardless of whether it’s the age, race, gender or even species variety. (Yes, species dysphoria exists too, apparently.)
I believe dysphoria sufferers need compassion, not co-signing.
Mental Health Screening & Suicide Prevention
Besides removing dysphoria-norming content from the curriculum, I would also recommend the school district advance their mental health screening protocol.
According to a 2014 study on suicide attempts among transgender and gender non-conforming adults, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention partnered with UCLA’s Williams Institute to conclude:
“The prevalence of suicide attempts among respondents […] is 41 percent, which vastly exceeds the 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population who report a lifetime suicide attempt, and is also higher than the 10-20 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults who report ever attempting suicide.” (Haas, p.2.)
(For context, the current suicidality rate for Jews under Nazi rule during WWII is thought to be as high as 25 percent.) Way beyond simple lack of societal acceptance, this points to a high comorbidity rate, where suicide attempts result not just from dysphoria but other mental or emotional conditions like depression, anxiety, etc.
Maybe regular mental health screening is already in place in the school district. If it is, I’m simply not aware of it. I do know there is a handful of insightful, caring counselors sprinkled among the schools and we’ve been thankful for their interaction with our kids more than once. I also know there are tools available to help with conducting screenings like this. MindWise.org offers one. I’m sure there are others.
I hope I’ve been able to clearly and respectfully explain my heart on this issue.
In closing, I pray I haven’t left anyone offended. If so, please know that was not my intent. There is certainly enough ideological vitriol in the world these days and it is not my goal to fuel more. When I investigated the Advocacy for Youth curriculum and websites, I found helpful gems mixed in with harmful error.
As I mentioned in a previous note, I know we all care about these kids and want to support, protect and equip them. I appreciate the earnest dialogue so far and hope it can continue.