One day, when I was teaching kindergarten almost 15 years ago, one of my students raced into my classroom.“Mrs. Bardsley! Mrs. Bardsley, come quick!” Freddy hollered. It was the middle of recess and I was brewing tea.
“What is it?” I asked, as I tossed my teabag into the trash.
Freddy’s blue eyes were wide with fright. “Mary has something caught in her penis!”
I abandoned my tea and ran after him, my mind spinning with questions. Sure enough, at the entrance to the restrooms we could both hear Mary call for help. I propped the girls’ door open but remained outside in the sunlight where other adults could see me.
It took some time, but I was able to talk Mary through her problem. It turned out that Mary had toilet paper stuck where it didn’t belong — not in her penis, because she didn’t have one — but another place where toilet paper can get stuck.
We need sexual education in public schools because children as young as 5 deserve to know about body parts. While kindergartners don’t need to learn about sex, STDs or condoms, they do need to understand basic anatomy so that they can reach out to adults for help.
Toilet paper drama is easy to solve, but many children face graver challenges. According to Darkness to Light, a national organization working to prevent child sexual abuse, about 1 in 7 girls and 1 in 25 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Almost 30% of those children are abused by a family member.
Right now, lawmakers are discussing a sexual health education bill that would mandate comprehensive, age appropriate, scientifically-based sexual education standards in our state. It covers topics like abstinence, the dangers of alcohol and risky behavior, sexual orientation and consent, but gives parents the choice of opting their students out. This bill is so needed that I’m flabbergasted it’s even up for debate.
I’ve heard parents opposed to the sex-ed bill say that if it passes they will homeschool their children. They believe that passing educational standards is like giving legislators a blank check to teach whatever they want in public schools. They think that homeschooling is safer. I, too, am concerned about safety, but I believe this bill is the best way to safeguard a large number of children.
First of all, school districts have control over how standards are implemented. They choose the curricula that meet the state standards. School districts work with parents to choose curricula.
Second, homeschooling your child is no guarantee of safety. In fact, sexual abuse happened in one of the most famous homeschooling families of all — the Duggars from “19 Kids and Counting.”
Would a public school’s sex-education program have helped those girls? We’ll never know. But it’s enough to convince me that all children, starting at a young age, deserve to be taught that they have ownership of their bodies. Come on, lawmakers, do the right thing.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at email@example.com.