Historically, nothing in American education fails to prepare students for the real world more than sexual education. This topic is typically the only formal introduction these students have to ideas about sexual health, consent, sexuality, and sex vs gender. Depending on the state law and district makeup, the level of inconsistency, incompetence and hostility that these topics will be treated with varies.
In 2012, the Guttmacher Institute published a paper on sex and HIV education linking teen pregnancy rates with required education and content. Only 25 states and the District of Columbia had mandated sexual and HIV education of any kind. While Ohio is one of these states, there is one overarching problem. Current Ohio code states that “the state board of education shall not adopt or revise any standards or curriculum in the area of health unless, by concurrent resolution, the standards, curriculum, or revisions are approved by both houses of the general assembly.” In short, Ohio law has removed the power to edit the required health curriculum from the Ohio State Board of Education.
While districts may choose to go beyond the bare minimum guidelines, many refuse to have a comprehensive education. This phenomenon causes some young people to be less informed than their peers and creates vulnerabilities in some districts. One example is the birth rate among older teenagers. In 2017, the national average was 18.8 births for every 1000 females aged 15-19, and the Ohio average was 20.8 for every 1000. Another example lies in the fact that schools are not forced to talk about consent. While 9% of all sexual assaults are committed by people aged 18-20, another 15% are committed by people under 18. These factors alone should give the assembly pause in how they view the restrictions they’ve placed on the board of education, but to have a truly informed discussion, one must also understand the price of heteronormativity. Heteronormativity for the basis of this argument will encompass three facets of human development that the code takes for granted. This focuses on the myth that every human is heteroromantic, heterosexual and cisgender.
As popular culture becomes more accepting of certain orientations, this trickles down to the school’s culture as a whole. On mass, it becomes easier to openly identify as such and allows for an easier adjustment into a happy, stable young person. However, regardless of the identity’s presence in popular culture, a lack of validity and exposure at school can create distance between a teen and their heteronormative peers.
More gender, romantic and sexual minority (GRSM) people are coming out at an age where they are heavily influenced by their peers but before they are capable of making evaluative judgements on issues such as human rights, fairness and prejudice like their older teen and young adult counterparts. These younger GRSM individuals are likely to be victimized by their peers because they are ‘different’.This is where validity through the school system comes in. By teaching students more about these minorities, it provides affirmations that this is in fact real. It also gives questioning students an opportunity to learn more about themselves.
Not every orientation is covered in popular culture, so the first time they could be introduced to the terminology is usually online. How long it takes is luck-based, and until that time, they will not understand just why they feel different. Providing ample education can change that.
Until the state relinquishes its hold or updates the minimum curriculum, ONU needs to do damage control with incoming freshmen. Beyond the standard “don’t assault one another” and “if you are assaulted, this is what you do” speech, we should host mandatory seminars to finally give them information on what it means to not be heteronormative and how that’s okay. There are far too many students who come to this school without knowing where on the spectrum they are, and until they do, they’ll always be living a lie.