Sex Education

One of this week’s controversies explored is sex education in the classroom. Many people believe that parents and families should be the ones responsible for teaching children about sexuality. Others think that the schools should follow a specified sexuality curriculum in addition to parental guidance to teach children about sex. Many parents are uncomfortable with talking to their children about the subject and welcome school involvement. In any case, sex education is taught in two main ways: comprehensive and abstinence-only. According to a 2004 poll by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, only 7 percent of American say sex education should not be taught in schools (Evans, 2008). Also, 45 percent of the public believes that both abstinence and other topics such as birth control should be taught (Evans, 2008). As of November 1, 2014, 22 states mandate that sex education be provided and 13 states require that, when provided, sex education must be medically accurate (Wikipedia, 2016). Some states require sex education to stress the importance of abstinence and waiting until marriage to have sex. Given the personal nature of this topic, it is no surprise that every state and every school district is different.

“Sex education is optional for Washington’s public schools. The only requirement is five hours of HIV-AIDS education beginning in fifth grade” (Seattle pi, 2005). Furthermore, “the only district-required sex ed is part of a health course mandated in ninth grade” (Seattle pi, 2005). Seattle Public Schools voluntarily teaches the Family Life and Sexual Health (F.L.A.S.H.) program to fifth graders. The F.L.A.S.H. program was developed by the Public Health Department of Seattle/King County (King County website, 2015). This program was being introduced one afternoon at the school where I volunteer. Interestingly, two girls said that their parents had requested they not participate and they were sent to the office to read while the program was conducted that day.

As a future teacher, it will be my job to instruct my students according to the curriculum I’m given by the district. It is not my place to decide which topic to stress more than another, just as it is not my place to teach the use of contraceptives over abstinence. A sex education program is fraught with moral and religious issues, and I hope to be able to navigate the curriculum should I teach fifth grade at any point in my career, or if the sex education program is expanded to younger grades.

References:

Evans, Dennis. (2008). Taking Sides: Clashing Views of Controversial Issues in Teaching and Educational Practice. 3rd Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Questions about the Family Life And Sexual Health (F.L.A.S.H.) Curriculum (May 27, 2015). Retrieved April 28, 2016, from http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/personal/famplan/educators/questions.aspx

Sex education in the United States. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 28, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_education_in_the_United_States

State issues guidelines on sex ed. (2005, January 14). Seattle pi. Retrieved from http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/State-issues-guidelines-on-sex-ed-1164265.php

Academic Standards and Technology in the Classroom

The United States education system and academic standards have been a hotly debated topic the last several decades. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, attempted to hold all states accountable for the performance of their schools with little assistance in determining how to improve poor-performing schools. NCLB expanded the federal role in public education through annual testing according to state standards, annual performance tracking, improving teacher qualifications, as well as changes in funding. The responsibility to develop academic standards and assessments was left up to the individual states. Fifteen years later, NCLB has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act, and many states have adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Math.

I have yet to fully understand the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how they differ from prior standards. CCSS seem to be the closest thing to national standards the United States has ever had. I think it’s a good thing to be able to evenly measure academic abilities of the majority of students in the U.S. (some states have not adopted CCSS, including Texas). At the same time, teachers need to quickly become familiar with the new standards so that they know what their students are responsible for learning. I struggle with knowing how much flexibility I will have as a future teacher. On one hand, I like the idea of knowing what I will need to teach, but on the other hand, enabling students to have a choice in what they are learning can be beneficial. According to Noddings (2006), educators have a choice to either work with the student’s internal motivations and interests with proper guidance, or to externally motivate them to provide incentive for them to learn what we think they should learn that will benefit them in the future. It is important for teachers to recognize student interests and encourage them, but at the same time make sure students learn critical academic skills that will open up more possibilities for their futures.

Another controversial topic is the use of computers and other electronic devices in schools. While computer games can help build social skills including collaboration, team work, and being part of a community, they can still be misused and deprive students of more enriching activities (Evans, 2008). According to Evans (2008), “as a result of increase time spent with computers, video games, and TV, the current generation of elementary students will experience an estimated 30 percent fewer face-to-face encounters than the previous generation” (p. 308). Learning through human interactions is so important, especially for preschool children. It is also important for older children to know how to use technology responsibly and ethically. Just a few weeks ago at a school I’m volunteering at, I saw students abusing their access to iPads in their math class. They were supposed to be playing math-related games, but several were on YouTube listening to music or generally wasting time on other applications. If not monitored, students will abuse electronic privileges, and it is our job as educators to teach them appropriate ways of interacting with them.

References:

Evans, Dennis. (2008). Taking Sides: Clashing Views of Controversial Issues in Teaching and Educational Practice. 3rd Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Noddings, Nel. (2006). Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.