These are exciting times for sex education as so many parents, politicians, and principals are realizing that they need to do something to address sexual harassment and sexual assault. As I read my google alerts every morning I hear a distinct METOO! And I have gotten a few calls from school districts and NGOs that want to look at parts of the SECS-C curriculum to use as one-offs in their school district. These efforts are good but are either based on the age old assumption that students are empty vessels and need to have the right kind of information or that you can change cultural values in one or two easy lessons. Actually, perhaps they are also based on the limit time and budgets for this kind of learning. When I originally thought up the SECS-C, the reason I put so much philosophy into it was because 1) students love to and need to think through some of these topic; and 2) I was pretty disgusted with the dumbed down workbook curricula that are out there. To learn to think and to learn to think hard about social and relational issues is part of what schools are about. So I don’t think of myself as providing a lesson on porn or a lesson on media objectification. Instead I think of myself as teaching kids how to think about these topics from a “we” perspective – what should we as a society think and do about these? What principles do we adopt? What feelings are appropriate? This is ethics education. And 7th, 8th graders aren’t too young to start thinking ethically about sex and the sexual issues that plague our society. When we pose sex education as ethics education (as my Harvard Educational Review article posed in 2010) we don’t have to argue about what to include and what to leave out. Parents and principles want their children to think about values, ethics, and morals. I’m not so sure about politicians.
So, as schools look to add curricular extras on the #metoo movement, they should think about what lessons need to be learned about it. The issues have to do with what makes it difficult for some people to say no when confronted with powerful others, issues of exploitation, issues relating to fairness and respect, and consent. But to boil this down to a "you need to get consent” lesson would not do this social problem justice in the classroom. What are the limits of consent? What does feeling empowered mean and how does one get to feel empowered? What does entitlement mean? And why do some people feel entitled? Imagine a group of 13 year olds discussing these issues. That’s education. That’s education that supports and admires the capabilities of 13-year-olds. Hey, I think I’ll work on a #metoo lesson myself!