The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill Thursday to update the sex education curriculum for schools that teach the topic. Going forward, these schools are required to provide medically accurate and age-appropriate information. Most notably, this updated curriculum will better reflect current dialogues with LGBTQ-inclusive material and discussions around consent.
Although this is a progressive legislation, it may be limited by the fact that parents are given 30 days to review the curriculum and can opt their children out. These circumstances may be hurtful to particularly vulnerable student populations (e.g. transgender students), but we cannot circumvent the legality of the parent-child relationship.
It is ultimately up to the parents’ discretion whether or not their child will have access to the material but the way the legislation is set up at least guarantees that the parents will have exposure to this material before rejecting it. This framework allows them to update their own understanding of sex education.
The two-pronged approach ensures that if a student is not seeing this information in an academic setting, there is a somewhat smaller probability that poorly informed parents will spread misinformation. Even if they do, barred students will mingle with their peers who are experiencing the new curriculum first-hand and may be able to learn that way.
Those circumstances may not be ideal, but it is more important that students will still have access to the new curriculum through informal channels rather than not at all.
In passing this bill, Massachusetts is joining the movement to change the nature of sex education in this country. Out of the 24 states that mandate the curriculum, only 10 require it to be medically accurate. Evidently, it is not a stretch to say that most classrooms in this country are working with outdated standards.
We cannot be sure of whether or not this event is a singularity or will cause a domino effect for other states. But one more state joining is better than a stagnant movement. While this is a highly polarizing issue, there is also little incentive to change because the lack of some sort of federal standard. Yet, the #MeToo movement’s recent escalation and 2015 legalization of gay marriage emphasizes that there should be.
The conversation on consent could be so much more diverse. It does not have to be a binary of yes or no, and should instead be a matter of enthusiasm. We know that sexually transmitted diseases are less likely to be transmitted if we use the appropriate protection — abstinence is not the sole option. Research has shown us that sexuality is not black and white, but rather a spectrum that some are not even on.
A more progressive sex education curriculum is not political. This is not a case where progressive ideas automatically translate to left-wing policies. This is a matter of people’s daily lives, their safety and their self-esteem. The work we do now to make students represented in their learning is a step in the right direction for all education.