This is the letter I’m going to send to the principal of Red Mountain High School and the Mesa Public School District regarding Project M.E.S.A. (Mesa’s Education in Sexual Awareness):
Dear Mesa Public Schools Administrators,
I’m not generally the outraged letter-writing type. I come from a family of teachers and administrators and I know you people work hard, and for the most part put lots of thought into your leadership choices. I have been fairly happy with my own MPS education (Jordan Elementary, Hendrix Jr. High, Dobson High School) and that of my three sons (Zaharis Elementary and Mesa Academy).
That said, in reviewing the Red Mountain High School registration packet I was sent for my oldest son, who will be starting as a freshman in a couple of weeks, I came across the page describing the ‘Sex Ed’ program, Project M.E.S.A., and my head almost exploded.
Apparently (at least according to this description), educating our kids about their sexuality has been reduced to a plea for abstinence? Oh, and scare tactics revolving around teen pregnancy and STDs?
Let’s break this down for just a minute:
Abstinence before marriage, while widely discussed and preached, is a lifestyle only a very small percentage of the population successfully lives. The large majority of Americans will have sex at some point before getting married (even if it’s only to the person he or she eventually marries). So I have to ask myself, why would the school district make the choice to not only recommend, but exclusively support (as the program is ‘abstinence only’) a lifestyle so far on the fringe of the community?
Because Red Mountain is a public school and there’s that whole “separation of church and state” thing, I’m going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume the choice to subject the entire freshman population to this program is not based on religious reasons. You guys wouldn’t try to indoctrinate my kid to fall in line with your personal religious beliefs, would you? Good.
Now that we’ve ruled that out, I can only guess you feel strongly our kids shouldn’t be having sex because it’s not safe. You know what dramatic, life-altering (and potentially life-ending) things can result from people having sex and you do NOT want that for the kids under your control. Kids having kids, kids getting STDs, kids feeling pressured into sex, YIKES. None of that sounds like anything you want them involved in, so you think the only thing to do is just tell them to stay completely away from it, right?
That, I can understand. We definitely don’t want our children exposed to anything potentially dangerous or in any way hazardous to their health. We need to protect them. They shouldn’t be around chemicals that could possibly catch fire or explode… except, you know, in Chemistry class. Where they’re taught which compounds are dangerous and how to properly handle them so as not to get injured. And we don’t let them put their bodies at risk by smashing them into other people… except on the football field, where they are given the proper equipment to minimize the risk of physical harm (which the school has deemed an acceptable downside to the benefit of physical activity and social interaction). Well, and we absolutely wouldn’t want to give kids access to a large, difficult to control weapon that kills thousands of people every year… I mean, except in Driver’s Ed.
Huh, so actually, I guess it’s our jobs as parents and teachers to educate our children about situations they’re likely to encounter that could potentially be dangerous or put them at risk, and help them understand how to navigate those situations in a mature, healthy and successful manner. Yet, apparently it’s been decided that even though we can all agree sex is something our kids are statistically likely to encounter sooner, rather than later (and almost definitely before marriage), the school stance is going to simply be: Don’t do it. It’s scary and you might ruin your life or die (which could totally also ruin your life). So you should just not do it and that’s all you need to know.
I have to say, in my opinion, the biggest mistake of all of this isn’t the school dropping the ball on actually educating kids about how to have a healthy and safe sexual relationship (although it sucks. But, in theory, the parents should be capable of, and responsible for, conveying this information. Barring that, there’s always the internet). It’s not the flagrant waste of time and resources pulling the entire class of freshmen out for four days in a pointless attempt to shame them into not participating in an activity their bodies have been genetically hard-wired to do creates (although that is also horrifying).
The biggest mistake of this is it creates a wall of mistrust between us and our teens. They already think we’re old, weird, uncool and bad dressers. All trying to sell this fairy tale about how teens don’t have sex and people shouldn’t have sex until they’re married does is reinforce to our teens we’re not honest with them. They know everyone is having sex from TV, books, music, social media and just about every where they turn. They’re not stupid. They probably haven’t ever gotten over the whole Santa Claus ruse and now, here were are, lying to them again, not trusting them to make their own choices, just slapping their hands away from the cookie jar. What we’re doing is telling them they can’t come to us. They can’t talk to us about this scary and difficult topic they need our guidance on. We’re taking the control to parent and teach them out of our own hands and forcing them to find answers on their own.
It was my first inclination to rescind my parental permission for my son to attend this seminar, but I don’t want the poor kid to be the weirdo whose mom won’t let him take Sex-Ed. He’s intelligent and mature, and I know I can have a conversation with him to explain my disagreement with the stance the school has taken and open up a dialog between us regarding sex and any questions he may have. I trust him to recognize the error of the situation and resist any indoctrination I’m sure totally won’t be occurring (right?). Instead, I’m writing this letter to voice my unhappiness with the poor choices the school and the district have made in regard to Project M.E.S.A.
Let’s all take a deep breath and trust our kids just a little bit more. Shame and fear isn’t going to keep them out of trouble, but information and a relationship built on trust just might.
Elizabeth Newlin, mother of Bennett Tolar, Freshman, Red Mountain High School