New Sex Education Standards Released for Kindergarten through 12th Grade
by Mina Frannea
Recently, a national coalition including The American Association of Health Education, The American School Health Association, The National Education Association – Health Information Network and The Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education, released national sex education standards for school children in Kindergarten through grade 12. The development of these standards is part of an ongoing initiative, the Future of Sex Education (FoSE), whose goal it is to create a national dialogue about and institutionalize a comprehensive system of sex education in public schools.
Published in the Journal of School Health, “The goal of the National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K–12 is to provide clear, consistent and straightforward guidance on the essential minimum, core content for sexuality education that is developmentally and age-appropriate for students in grades K–12.” (Source: FoSE)
Why the National Coalition wants Comprehensive Sex Education in Public Schools
In their special report, the national coalition of health and education agencies cites statistics related to teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. They also state that there is “a pressing need to address harassment, bullying and relationship violence in our schools, which have a significant impact on a student’s emotional and physical well-being as well as on academic success.” The coalition relates the bullying, in part, to a lack of tolerance to homosexuality and violence in teenage relationships. The coalition further maintains that evaluations of comprehensive sex education programs show that these programs “can help youth delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use.”
What Students Should Know by the End of Grades 2, 5, 8 and 12
The national coalition introduces these new sex education standards as “present performance indicators – what students should know and be able to do by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12 – based on the eight National Health Education Standards listed in the following table.”
- By the end of 2nd grade, young elementary school students should know the proper names for body parts, including male and female anatomy; be aware that all living things reproduce, and understand differences and similarities in how boys and girls are expected to act. Young elementary students should also know how to say “no” and leave an uncomfortable situation, and how to identify and talk to a trusted adult if someone is touching them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- By the end of 5th grade, students should be able to understand male and female reproductive systems, including body parts and their functions; they should be able to convey how puberty prepares human bodies for the potential to reproduce, and they should be able to “define sexual orientation as the romantic attraction of an individual to someone of the same gender or a different gender.”
- By the end of 8th grade, students should be able to “differentiate between gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation,” know what sexual intercourse is and it’s relationship to human reproduction, understand different methods of contraception, including emergency contraception; understand the signs and symptoms of pregnancy as well as the importance of prenatal care, and be able to describe and discuss “the impact of situations and behaviors that constitute bullying, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, rape and dating violence.”
The coalition goes on to provide more complex recommendations for students at the end of 12th grade. Please refer to the full report presented by the national coalition for further information.
The national coalition is recommending these sex education standards because they want to encourage age appropriate discussions about sex, bullying and healthy relationships. Due to the growing concerns with teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and bullying, they feel it’s important to provide a foundation about sex education to kids as young as Kindergarten aged students.
Why Aren’t Parents Proactively Involved in the Process?
As parents of two 8-year-olds (son and daughter), my husband and I want our third graders to have an awareness of the realities of life because that is part of protecting them, but we also want our children to enjoy the innocence of their childhood. We have tried to introduce and/or explain life concepts when we feel the twins are ready to understand, and we listen and watch to what they say and do as a sign of their readiness. It’s not a perfect science so I’m concerned when a bunch of national agencies assert they know when and how it’s right to introduce our kids to certain life concepts because every child is different and individual family values are also involved. I’m not sure that our children were ready at age 5 to know that all living things reproduce. If the recommendations by the national coalition were implemented at that time, would our kids have been learning about the concept of reproduction in Kindergarten? At age 5, I don’t believe they were even old enough to understand the concept of reproduction, let alone how boys and girls are expected to act. At age 5, our twins weren’t interested in their anatomies –they were interested in playing with their toys!
The coalition asserts that they would work with educators to determine age appropriate curriculums, but they haven’t clearly identified the parameters in their report, nor have they addressed having parental input in the process.
Teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and bullying are a reality for our society. And, talking about sexuality is a tough part of parenting so I do understand and respect the need to provide supplemental, age appropriate education to children. What concerns me about the national coalition’s report is that, other than providing links to three websites that provide parents with information about sex education, it does not appear to address involving or educating parents about the process. It seems to be focused on schools taking on a primary role in educating children about their sexuality. This is a big oversight, in my opinion, because parents should and will want to have a say in when and how their children are to be introduced to sex education. Further, seemingly excluding parents from the process encourages combative reactions rather than garnering parental support. Proactively involving parents in the process gives them a better understanding of what their children are learning, which could help minimize potential negative gut reactions, and also gives parents opportunities to open up dialogue with their children –extremely important! If the ultimate goal is to benefit and educate our kids, then the recommendations should also address and provide educators with specific guidelines on how to get parents proactively involved in the process.
In light of the above, I find it ironic that the coalition is maintaining that “parents overwhelmingly favor comprehensive sexuality education in public school at the national and state levels” because the poll results they use as sources to support this statement appear to be from 2004 – 2006. I am glad to see that the statistics they use regarding the issues that need to be addressed are recent because these are important considerations.
It will be interesting to see how these new, non-binding sex education standards will be handled by educators going forward. What about you? How do you feel, as a parent, about educators using these minimum standards to create a comprehensive foundation in sex education for students in grades Kindergarten and up?
I’m a Mom to eight-year-old twins and I write about things that inspire me. My wonderful husband is my rock and I’m so glad that he is my life’s partner. Visit my blog at www.themomsjournal.com.