I’ve been in the Decatur school system since Kindergarten, which means that over the past eleven and a half years I’ve been subjected to those strained hours of biased sex education. Memories of abstinence lectures, warnings of STDs and uncomfortable silences sum up the majority of my time spent in those classrooms.
Most of us can recall awkward experiences with unqualified teachers informing roomfuls of confused eighth graders of the dangers of unsafe sex. These half-hearted lessons and their limitations are brought to classrooms in Decatur thanks to the Georgia Department of Education.
The GDE not only requires abstinence be taught as the only completely effective protection against unplanned pregnancy but also makes no mention towards the use of condoms or birth control.
I can admit that these standards could be helpful in a more conservative setting, however there comes a time when lessons that are dictated by obsolete state laws just don’t cut it anymore.
In a city as progressive and open minded as Decatur, it would only make sense for students to have realistic options for sex education that reflect the lives they plan on leading and not the ideals of these outdated criteria.
It’s not Decatur’s fault, though. Health teachers in Decatur don’t get to choose the standards they teach by, so it’s important to remember that when your teacher tells you it’s dangerous to have sex before marriage, it’s most likely the state’s opinion, not theirs.
Christopher Atwell has taught Health at Renfroe Middle School for the past three years, and has experienced lessons decided by the GDE first hand.
“They only allow us to teach so much.”, Atwell said. Atwell doesn’t necessarily agree with the standards that the state sets.
“It’s beneficial, but like most things can be improved.”
I began looking outside of public school for less traditional means of sex education when I was a freshman, and I was surprised by what I found. For six weeks at the beginning of the 2015 school year, North Decatur Presbyterian Church held a Sunday school class for high school students called, “Our Whole Lives”. The program focused less on teaching students information that restricted and scared them and more on conversations that would ultimately lead to a healthier and happier lifestyle.
“Sexual health is so much more than just how to put a condom on. Positive sexual health is a way of thinking-it’s how you live. It’s knowing the risks and understanding how to deal with them.” Drew Cornutt, one of the two session leaders said.
Cornut became aware of the subpar level of information dictated by the Georgia State standards after the first lesson, and decided to stick with the program after that.
Programs like “Our Whole Lives” are crucial for high school students. Teaching teenagers the about STD’s is one thing, but teaching students how to live happy and healthy lifestyles with respect towards one another is so much more impactful.
Decatur students, you don’t have to be limited to subpar sex ed. There are options out there for honest and realistic advice for living happy, healthy lives, you just need to know where to look.
Illustration by John Ellis