Tonight was my last teaching a class that I'll tell you a story about over the orange croissant and after a word from our sponsor...
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Since September, I've been teaching a class at my Unitarian Universalist church to a group of 16 middle schoolers roughly every other Sunday night. The class is called Our Whole Lives, and it's quite possibly the best comprehensive sexuality education curriculum in the United States. It has six separate components as befits a lifespan sexuality education curriculum: Grades K-1, 406, 7-9, 10-12, young adult and adult.
The Grade 7-9 curriculum is the original "flagship" curriculum launched in the mid-90s, and has its roots in About Your Sexuality, developed in the 1970s. Over the years I've taught AYS and three levels of OWL (7-9. 10-12 and adult) but it had been 12 years since I last taught. It was updated this year so in many ways it was like teaching it for the first time, with a group of youth generationally different from the last time.
The curriculum has at its core values I find tremendously important. From the OWL website:
While Our Whole Lives is secular, it is not value-free. The program gives clear messages about the following key sexuality issues:
* self worth
* sexual health
* justice and inclusivity
Our Whole Lives recognizes and respects the diversity of participants with respect to biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and disability status. The activities and language used throughout the program have been carefully chosen to be as inclusive as possible of this human diversity.
As you might imagine, the class itself is powerful, but youth aren't in general excited to be there. It's awkward topics about body development, relationships, dating, thoughts on sexuality and gender identity, and information on making decisions around sexual activity. And some evenings, you finish teaching wondering if anything
Yesterday as Mr. Brillig and I were leaving the grocery store, a young woman came up to us and said "I don't know if you remember me but I was in your OWL class when I was in middle school". We both recognized her immediately. She said it was an important part of her teenage years, that having trusted adults she could discuss issues with (NO question about sexuality is left unanswered, with an anonymous question box so stuff can be asked without identification as to who wants to know) who weren't her parents was vital. And then she said "guess what, I'm teaching OWL now!"
I swear, no parent could be prouder of their children as I was of this former student. Then I thought of another former student, now directing the Health Services Wellness Programs (including sexuality information) at a major university. Another former student is an Adult Sexual Assault counselor. I'm not saying that one class these folks took as middle and high schoolers is the sole reason they're doing what they do now... but I also believe it didn't HURT their future choices. I think of other former students who told us over the years they remembered what they learned in a moment when decisions needed to be made, and because of what they'd learned made good choices.
All that runs though my mind now is the quote by Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Whatever it is you do, in those moments when you wonder if it matters. If anyone notices, or cares, or if it will impact anyone besides yourself... yes. Yes it will. You may not know it today, but one day, when you most need to hear it... you will.
Thank you to Steven Payne for the much-needed diary collaboration tonight. I got home from class too late to both write AND format, and Steven was right there with the assist. Teamwork, it rocks!
May 2, 2015
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