(This blog was originally published on Share My Lesson)
Recent revelations of sexual misconduct from public figures may feel very personal to you. Or it may seem far removed from the incredible demands on your time and attention. Chances are, you want to do something but feel that you simply can’t do much with this issue. What can we do beyond hoping that health teachers, counselors, and other mentors harness the momentum to shine a light on the all-too-common and underreported instances of harassment?
Share My Lesson is curating a collection of resources for all teachers to help protect our children, teachers, and staff from abuse, and to turn the narrative toward safe and respectful interactions. From incorporating lessons in your classroom to becoming more conscious of the issues that students face, we can all make a contribution toward building dignified learning environments for everyone.
Fostering Healthy Relationships
At the core of this issue is the need to explicitly teach the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships. Social media, reality TV, and other influences can warp perceptions in developing minds about what is acceptable and what is not. The first category of our #MeToo Collection provides resources and lesson plans to aid teachers in this important endeavor.
The collection includes a lesson on “The Trap of Masculinity: How Sexism Impacts Boys and Men” from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Another great resource is “That’s Not Cool,” a set of tools to raise awareness on dating violence, unhealthy relationships, and digital abuse created through a partnership among Futures Without Violence, the U.S. Justice Department, and the Ad Council.
Protecting Students from Harassment
It would be incredibly naive to think that our schools are free from sexual harassment. Yet recent reporting shows that most schools report zero incidents (Camera, 2018). Why? Many reports are swept under the rug. And in the very recent past, perpetrators used their power to intimidate or discredit victims’ stories. What makes the current movement exciting is that the social tide seems to be turning.
Nonetheless, we still have cause for concern. How did a medical doctor for the U.S. gymnastics team get away with abusing more than 150 girls in a period spanning more than 30 years? In short, many adults didn’t believe their stories. The ADL’s “Listening to and Believing Children” resource offers concrete tips on what to do if a young person reports an incident.
When an incident is reported, schools have a legal obligation to follow certain procedures. Do you know what those are? Do students? Do parents? Do administrators? An organization called Stop Sexual Assault in Schools—which was founded by the parents of a girl who had been assualted on a school field trip—provides education, videos, and an activism toolkit to raise awareness for all students and adults, and to provide support for victims and their families.
Empowering Teens with Expansive Information
Whether we hold liberal or conservative views on sex, we owe our young people a balanced view and a range of information in helping them make important decisions. For example:
- Young people often exaggerate their sexual interactions, making many teens think that “everyone is doing it” when that is usually not the case.
- There are a variety of contraception and protection methods available. Abstinence is the only 100 percent protection against pregnancy and infection. Teens often make mistakes with condoms and other methods of contraception at rates higher than adults, making contraception less effective overall for their age group.
- Sex is both entirely natural and emotionally complex, especially for young people just beginning to feel and think about these things. The decision to have sex is a big deal.
- Both partners must give their clear, direct consent to physical encounters. Type of clothes, amount of alcohol consumed, or previous encouragements should not be confused with permission.
- All states have laws that protect young people and victims of abuse. Do your students know these laws? Could you post them somewhere in your school?
The New York Times Learning Network has created an entire unit that harnesses the power of the #MeToo moment for conversation and debate on issues of harassment, consent, and related topics that could easily be an entire semester’s worth of content. If I were a health teacher, this would be my guide. There are also incredible resources for social studies, arts, and English teachers.
Equally important is consideration for students of sexual minorities. Our #MeToo Collection includes a section on inclusive classrooms and schools. These lessons should be done with all students—so that all students learn about the importance of acceptance and the harmfulness of discrimination.
Reflection Questions for Educators
- Would your students feel comfortable to discuss these issues with you? How can you gently and professionally let them know that they can turn to you if they ever need to talk?
- Does sex education at your school give students expansive, objective facts?
- Do students of different sexual orientations or identifications have information and somewhere to turn if they want to talk?
- Think about students who may not have support at home. Or who may likely be the target of harassment. How could your school provide extra support for these kids?
- A year- or semester-long course is not enough to adequately educate teenagers on healthy sexual relationships. How does your school provide ongoing, continuous education and support for students?
Imagine how much stronger our school communities would be if just one of every student’s teachers made a small adjustment to promote safety. Will you be that one teacher?
We will continue to update and explore additional ideas related to the #MeToo movement in the coming weeks and into Women’s History Month in March. Do you have thoughts or suggestions on this topic? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Camera, L. (2018). #MeToo Goes to School. U.S News & World Report. Retrieved Feb. 5, 2018, from https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2018-01-08/the-metoo-movement-goes-to-school.