Five Things I Wish We Taught In All Schools

There are a lot of things we teach in schools, both intentionally and inadvertently.  If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out the spoken word piece Somewhere in America, performed by three young women from an LA-based spoken word group; be warned, it’s not happy, but I think it points out a lot of those inadvertently, silently taught lessons that we absorb in schools.

But that’s not what this post is about.  This post is about what I wish we did teach in schools, so without further ado:

1. Comprehensive sex education

Long-time readers of this blog will remember my previous posts on this subject.  My reasons haven’t changed: the reality is that young people are having sex in this country, and they are doing so unprepared to make intelligent decisions about it.  From not knowing their contraceptive options to not knowing how to use them, and not knowing how to prevent and monitor for sexually transmitted infections, young people simply lack the information needed to make smart choices about their health.  And anyone who thinks “well, then they shouldn’t be having sex” when they read that…in an ideal world, no one would have sex before they’re emotionally ready to do so, and able to make smart decisions about it, but we sadly don’t live in that world.  We live in a world where sex is supposed to be this tantalizing thing that young men are taught they have to want, that young women are supposed to want but not want to give, and this creates a relationship dynamic conducive to pressure. We also live in a world that frames sex differently in the media, that makes it seem appealing and relatively consequence-free, and we need to be doing something to counter that.  Since we aren’t going to convince teens that sex is terrible, we may as well equip them to handle it responsibly.

2. Consent education

On a related note, our current societal discourses around sex are all kinds of problematic, and we need strong consent education to combat this.  Consent education honestly should be part of sex education in this country, because if it’s not consensual, it’s not sex, it’s rape.  We need to be teaching people what sexual assault actually is, the parameters in which consent can or can’t be given; we need to be teaching a yes means yes model of consent; and we need to be teaching that it is 100% necessary and it applies to all sex acts.  I’m also in favor of schools teaching bystander intervention training, helping people be more aware of social cues and giving them the tools they need to help out those around them.

3. Relationship Health

I guess this is also a part of health education (which I apparently have a lot of feelings about), but I don’t think we talk nearly enough about healthy relationships and what they should look like.   This is related to the issue of consent, of course, but it’s much bigger than just consent and sexual relationships.  Looking back on my high school experience, I cannot remember ever discussing in a class what a healthy relationship actually looks like, or what the signs of abuse are.  I can’t remember ever learning about emotional abuse, as opposed to physical abuse, and what kinds of red flags one should watch for.  But one third of high school students report being physically or emotionally abused by a romantic or sexual partner in high school, so we clearly need to be doing a lot more to help young people navigate these issues. And the numbers don’t really improve once young people graduate and enter the working world or go to college; people need to be given tools to recognize a bad situation, and to locate the resources they need if they need to walk away from one.

4. Financial Literacy

I cannot imagine a good reason for us not including financial literacy in our curriculum, given that we include so many other things.  In my life, i will likely never need to know what I learned in Earth Science or Woodshop, but I will absolutely need to be able to make a budget, balance a checkbook, and understand how student loans work.  Too many people don’t understand that how much they owe at the end of a loan is tied into their interest rate and how often interest compounds; too many people don’t understand how to save for retirement or why they need to start early.  People don’t recognize the need to build good credit, or smart ways to do so; and women are disproportionately likely in the United States to lack good credit because they are more likely put everything in joint accounts or in their husbands’ names after marriage than vice versa, which can strongly disadvantage them down the line.  We should be teaching high school students how these things work, so that when they get into the world, they can make smart financial decisions, instead of having to learn things the hard way.

5. Civics

I am sure there are high schools that teach civics, but I never took civics, and I’m not entirely sure what it would be like.  What I think we need to be taught is this: what are your rights? What are your rights when you deal with the police? What do the authorities need a warrant for? What are your rights in the workplace? What constitutes discrimination, sexual harassment, etc? What can’t employers legally ask you? What are the consequences for drug possession in your state? How does the criminal justice system work?  It’s nice that we learn about the three branches of government, and I hope that we get an increasingly informed and involved citizenry, but it would also help if people knew how to navigate our legal system and when and how they can legally advocate for themselves.


~ by Randi Saunders on January 13, 2015.

One Response to “Five Things I Wish We Taught In All Schools”

  1. In the Scottish secondary school I attend, we are taught a lot in PSE about physical abuse, emotion abuse, homophobia, internet safety and the like. We have also as you have said, never talked about the signs of a healthy the relationship, also sex education is appalling, I am halfway through my fourth year of secondary education and I have not been taught how to ask for content, use a condom, or even how you ho about having sex.

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