Mr. Health Teacher

Real Education for the Real World

Month: October 2012

Students Deserve Real Sex Ed

Health education includes a lot of topics — nutrition, fitness, substance use, mental health, violence prevention and communication skills, to name a few — but the one that always gets the most attention is sex ed. And lately it’s not just getting attention in class.

It’s been all over the news.

My state, California, expects us to teach comprehensive sexuality lessons. That means we provide young people with medically accurate information about human anatomy and talk frankly about birth control options, sexually transmitted infections, safer sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual choices (including, but not limited to, abstinence).

When I started teaching 11 years ago, we were right in the middle of the “abstinence-only” years, and most students in the United States were getting very little in the way of real sex education in schools. Thankfully, in the wake of the overwhelming evidence that abstinence-only programs fail to keep anyone abstinent or safe, more states are now offering at least some real sexuality education.

I have to admit the first time I met parents at a back-to-school night and told them that I would soon be teaching their 14- and 15-year-olds about condoms and pregnancy prevention, I expected some might be upset.

I didn’t expect what actually happened, which is that a bunch of parents came up to shake my hand, saying things like, “Thank you so much for teaching my daughter about that stuff. I know she needs to learn it, but I just don’t know what to say.”

The truth is that most parents in our country want their kids to learn about abstinence and birth control in the classroom, as shown in this new reportfrom the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Furthermore, from the same report, seven in 10 adults believe that teen pregnancy prevention programs that are federally funded should primarily support those programs that have been “proven to change behavior related to teen pregnancy” — just the opposite of the abstinence-only programs, which have been repeatedly proven not to work.

Some parents aren’t waiting around for things to get better. Mica Ghimenti, a parent in the Clovis Unified school district, joined two other parents and the ACLU in filing a lawsuit to change the district’s sex education curriculum. Ghimenti says that her daughter received no information about condoms, birth control or preventing STIs in health class and that lack of information presented a health risk for students.

She told the L.A. Times, “I want there to be medically accurate, scientifically based education for all youth in Clovis Unified. If we don’t give them the information, they won’t be able to make good, healthy decisions.”

When I first introduce myself to students, I make a pledge to them — I will never lie to them; I won’t exaggerate things to make them seem worse than they are; and if they ask about something I don’t know about, I will do my best to get them a real answer.

Like Ghimenti, I don’t think it’s fair to expect students to make responsible decisions unless they have truthful, reliable information on which to base those decisions.

Resources for Teaching Sex Ed

  • Scarleteen A frank and terrific information and advice site aimed at people in their teens and 20s.
  • Future of Sex Education An organization dedicated to “creating a national dialogue about the future of sex education and to promote the institutionalization of comprehensive sexuality education in public schools.” They recently released their “National Sexuality Education Standards.”
  • Sex, Etc. A great sexuality information site from Rutgers University written “by teens, for teens.” They also publish a print magazine that can be used in classrooms.
  • SexEdLibrary A library of downloadable sex ed lessons, including lessons on human development, sexual anatomy, puberty, sexual orientation, body image, dating, abstinence, and more.
  • Planned Parenthood’s “Different is Normal” video, designed to reduce anxiety and body image issues among teenagers.

What sex ed policies does your district have? Do you think they are effective?

edutopialogo_smallThis post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. Please take a look and share a comment there!

The Smoking Fry

I love the movie Super Size Me, and my students always respond well to this story of a man who eats nothing but McDonald’s for a month — and the horrible things that happen to his body because of it. Two of the most affecting scenes in the movie, however, don’t revolve around Morgan Spurlock‘s growing midsection.

In this first clip (included as a bonus feature on the DVD of the film), Spurlock shows what happens to a selection of McDonald’s sandwiches and fries when he leaves them out, unrefrigerated, for several weeks. The results are pretty incredible.

In the next clip, Spurlock uses animation to show how Chicken McNuggets make their way to a fast food tray. It’s a great distillation of the problems with industrial agriculture and processed food in less than 90 seconds.

Tips for Vegetarian Teens

When I teach about nutrition, I inevitably get questions from some teenagers about becoming vegetarian or vegan. I think it’s great that students are thinking about their own diets enough to even consider this switch, and I like to have some resources close at hand to help steer them toward healthy choices. After all, if they’re avoiding meat but gorging on Pringles and Pepsi, they won’t be doing their bodies any favors. In honor of Vegetarian Awareness Month, here are some great places for meat-free teens to find support and ideas.

KidsHealth has a great article on its site all about becoming a vegetarian. They do a great job of explaining the different types of veggie-centered diets and give some advice about how to deal with different health concerns people might face as they move away from meat.

Veggie Teens is a terrific site written by a teenager for other teens. Elyse May, the 17-year-old who created the site, has a whole cookbook full of recipes and suggestions, and she blogs regularly with new recipes and tips.

Harvard University has a meatless version of the Healthy Eating Plate complete with recipes created by esteemed cookbook writer Molly Katzen. The selections include delicious-sounding meals like Thai Eggplant Salad with Coconut Tofu Strips, Garlic-Braised Greens, and Roasted Squash with Pomegranate.

Teens who are vegetarians and athletes sometimes have some special concerns about how to get enough protein and calories, or what to eat for pre- and post-game snacks. Those concerns are addressed well in this article from the Vegetarian Resource Group.

If those sites aren’t quite enough, take a look at this 8-page guide to being a vegetarian teen from the California Department of Public Health, or head to your local library or bookstore and check out one of the many fabulous books on this subject.

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