On Friday, May 11th, Governer Haslem of Tennessee signed legislation preventing teachers from condoning “gateway sexual activity”. Although it is unclear how this will actually play out on the ground, it seems like the open and honest discussion of really any sexual activity will be shut down completely in Tennessee classrooms. These so-called gateway activities include touching genitals, oral and anal sex, although some have gone so far as implying that holding hands and kissing will also be outlawed from conversations.
If you know me at all, you know I clearly object to this legislation on every level. Why, you may ask? Just a few, gut reactions:
- Limiting conversations will limit learning.
- The more restrictions a teacher has on what they can/cannot say, the less comfortable they are teaching, and the more the students will learn that sexuality is something you cannot discuss.
- This legislation has FEAR written all over it…”be afraid of going too far, because you can’t control yourself!!” We should be teaching that everyone has a choice to be in control of themselves…let’s teach responsibility and how to make informed decisions, not ‘don’t do this because it’s dangerous and scary’.
- Teachers should not be in the business of condoning in the first place- they should be providing information about what happens (or could happen) in real life and helping students develop skills on how to respond in effective ways. It’s not about “you should do x,y,z”, it’s about “How will you decide?”
- Talking about something in a classroom doesn’t mean a teacher condones it. If so, we’d need to stop teaching about slavery and genocide. Just because a sexuality educator describes what oral sex is, the risks involved and how those risks can be reduced does not mean he/she wants all the students to go out and have oral sex as a homework assignment!!
- And seriously, isn’t it 2012?
So, what do teachers in Tennessee do, now that this restriction will be in place?
- The problem seems to be with the ‘condoning’ part, so be extra mindful of how you frame your messages. If you never tell a student what they should do, you can’t be accused of condoning anything!
- You might find yourself asking even MORE questions to the students, to keep the learning very student-driven.
- Provide direction on how to find resources independently- instruct students on qualities of a good resource.
- Have a frank conversation with your administrator about how this legislation will affect your classroom.
- Identify acceptable messages, and see how you can align all of your lessons with those messages.
- Hold a meeting with parents before sex ed starts…best put your approach out there! And remind parents that THEY are the primary sexuality educators of their children, and encourage them to engage in regular conversations about relationships and sexuality.
- Pray that the legislation will be shot down!!!!