Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hearing on Sex Education at City Hall

On Tuesday, February 15th, Boston's City Council held a hearing on the state of sex education in the Boston Public Schools.

This hearing came about because the Hyde Square Task Force and their youth organizers created a documentary about the scarcity of comprehensive sex education and its consequences.

Students are asking for better, more comprehensive sex education, which includes conversations about healthy relationships, STI's, and peer pressure.  They are also asking for more availability of condoms at high schools.

In my social work experience, I've had the pleasure of being able to visit the State House quite often for various reasons, but this was the first time I had attended a hearing in City Hall.  The room was packed!  They needed to start filtering people into other rooms that had televisions so that they could still watch what was happening.
The big players were all at this event - Boston Public Schools, Boston Public Health Commission, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice, Massachusetts Alliance on teen Pregnancy, and of course the Hyde Square Task Force and student representatives from various youth organizations.

But there were also representatives who agreed on the availability of comprehensive sex education with a strong emphasis on abstinence and disagreed about the availability of condoms for high school students.

City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley was really a champion on this effort.  She asked the right questions to the various people who were testifying for and against the subject of the hearing.  It's great to see that the city is listening, especially when the strongest voices are those of the youth.

Many of those that disagreed with subject of hearing had the usual arguments.  One woman spoke about how sex education in schools undermined the testament in the Bible about honoring thy mother and thy father. But City Councilor Pressley reiterated previous testimonies that stated that while parents want to be the first resource for their kids, they don't often know how to broach the topic.

The first group who testified against the distribution of condoms was from Pure at Heart, based out of Harvard University.  They read statistics from countries around the world that showed that more condom availability means that more teens will just have sex.  They also stated that it would be wrong to recommend a product that is not 100% effective in preventing STI's.  Councilor Pressley then stated that their argument would be related to wearing a seatbelt -which is not 100% effective in preventing harm during a car accident.  The Pure at Heart representatives then started using drunk driving as an analogy to sex, which in all honesty, was pretty incorrect.

The one shocking testimony for me was from a medical doctor.  Though I couldn't hear too much of his arguments because he wasn't speaking too clearly into the microphone, he not only disagreed about the effectiveness of condoms (stating that they need to be used correctly to be the most effective, which begs the question, "How are people supposed to know how to use a condom without education?"), but also blamed the prevalence of teen sex on the lack of a strong two-parent home.

Truth be told, my eyes went wide at that comment.  I cautiously looked around at adults and kids in the room and questioned if anyone would take his comment personally.  While I agree about having positive adult male and female role models in everyone's life, it would be wrong to say that those positive adults can ONLY be parents.  How many of the people in the hearing come from single-parent households, but also have other positive adults in their lives?

Truth be told, it seemed that most of the people who disagreed with condom availability mainly spoke about how "kids don't know any better."  They talked about how having more condoms would mean that kids would want to try them out, but then not use them correctly and just pass all types of diseases to each other.

As someone who is a believer in youth empowerment, it was frustrating and disheartening to hear those arguments.  While the adults are ultimately the ones passing the laws, I really believe that the youth have the ability to make informed, educated opinions about very difficult topics.  They have to maneuver the murky waters of relationships, friendships, waking up to get to school on time, homework, work, and so many other things.  The fact that so many of them are able to do this is an achievement in an of itself, and the adults have to remember that.

I definitely agree that comprehensive sex education includes not only a conversation about anatomy and STI's, but about all prevention methods including abstinence, about healthy relationships and peer pressure, and about the ability to make a choice.

I connected with the Boston Public School representatives, and will hopefully get involved in a task force to further work on the creation of a comprehensive curriculum.

I really feel extremely passionate about this field, and am really feeling that this is where my path is leading me.  But, I don't want to wait around for an opportunity.  I really want to seize it.  I'm ready and willing, good, giving, and game.

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