What Is Education from an Equal and Why Was It Created?
Hello. I’m Natalie Goldberg, and welcome to Education from an Equal!
I took a health class my sophomore year where the curriculum was subpar at best, and discriminatory at worst, and immediately I knew that feeding teens this incomplete information was not only ridiculous, but dangerous as well. Giving young adults the education they need in the modern era is incredibly important, however, my school did not recognize this and refused to put in place new curriculum guidelines, even after this issue was raised by multiple students. Not only does health hold the key for the development of lifelong skills that can encourage healthy behaviors, but it is also a necessity for fostering an inclusive environment where kids can find the appropriate answers to their questions. However, my class didn’t provide an environment for this either. LGBTQ+ students were not taught about dental dams or life-saving AIDs prevention and protection drugs. Students with family structures that were outside of the stereotypical norm were forced to do assignments with questions like, and I paraphrase here, “Ask your mom what her experience with giving birth to you was like,” which completely excludes those that are adopted, have two dads or a single parent family with a father, or don’t have a positive relationship with their mother, creating a dangerously assumptive environment where students can start to feel like outsiders. The curriculum outside of sex-ed was also taught in a negative manner as well, specifically the curriculum related to drugs, nutrition, and mental health. These experiences are why I chose to focus my first season on a critique of the way in which health is taught nationally, rather than another required class. Health develops the very foundation for life, and without it, students are left in the dark about issues that affect them on a daily basis. My own experience, along with other Oregonians in terms of health, however, was much more comprehensive compared to [that] of my peers living in other states.
After doing research on my own, as well as collaborating with teens from all over America to formulate our own comprehensive sex-ed curriculum, I learned that Oregon is actually one of the best states in terms of comprehensive health education. There were problems much bigger than those in my own classroom. From my friends in Texas, I learned that they weren’t taught anything about consent or about having safe sex. Some states refrained from even mentioning the acronym LGBTQ+, as a result of “no promo homo” laws, which are, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, laws that prohibit the promotion of pro-LGBT lifestyles. In others, school districts required abstinence-only education or had incredibly lax regulations on what was actually taught in health class, leaving it up to the whim of the individual teachers.
Often one of the most ridiculed classes, health is seen as unnecessary, even laughable, to many students. With antiquated section titles akin to ‘Gonorrhea?: You’re a Goner, Leah!’ and ‘A is for Abstinence,’ what student wouldn’t laugh? Across the nation, health classes often use materials from the 80’s and don’t teach kids curriculum that is actually relevant to their lives. Health has the potential to be the most influential class in a student’s life, as it is the only one that blatantly teaches real world skills that can be applied to every single aspect of a student’s life. It also has the power to introduce them to ways of thinking they may have never considered before, creating a positive, accepting environment within the school.
The effect of the lacking health curriculum is terrifying. With these “no promo homo” laws perpetuated in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, entire experiences and people are dehumanized and invalidated, with this lack of belonging contributing to the suicide rate of LGBTQ+ youth. According to Huffington Post, nearly 70% of calls to the Trevor Lifeline, which is a suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ Youth, come from the southern or central regions of the United States, where the majority of states with “no promo homo” laws are concentrated. Additionally, people everywhere are raped and assaulted because values of consent are not instilled within young people. Teens are abusing drugs to self-medicate their depression and/or anxiety because mental illness is so stigmatized and seldom discussed. So many of the issues that fall under the category of “health” are being left out of the curriculum, whether purposefully or not, leaving kids everywhere lacking basic knowledge that could save their lives, and without an environment in which they feel safe.
While I’m not claiming that the lack of nationally-regulated, factual, inclusive, comprehensive curriculum causes these horrific issues, any logical person can look to the fact that today’s teens in many states are struggling with mental illness, experiencing teen pregnancy, or being bullying and infer that the lack of the focus on these specific topics in health, the class meant to help them learn about these issues, is partially why they continue to be prevalent. Providing access to certain values and information can allow teens to introspect and recognize issues within their own mindsets or choices, altering the way they treat people.
With the right education, a person is unstoppable and able to accomplish anything they attempt. It can give them a foundation to scrutinize, challenge, and develop belief systems, and engage with others in constructive ways. It exposes people to concepts that they have never known before, catalyzing an expansion of knowledge that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. Without the proper education, however, the danger of ignorance looms, a fate to which no one deserves to be condemned.
Taking charge of one’s own education is empowering, which is why I created Education from an Equal. I hope to craft a clear critique of the way that the national government, as well as individual school districts, choose to treat health class, and provide education and resources that detail the kind of curriculum I, and many others, deserve to see in classrooms across the nation.
So, the title is Education from an Equal, but when I say an equal, I mean an actual equal. I’m only seventeen years old. I am not a doctor, I am not a teacher, but I have put resources and links into the description box of this episode on my website that can help you gain more education than I am able to provide you with. With any advice stated within this podcast, it is imperative you seek the advice of a doctor or teacher or another trusted adult before pursuing any course of action.
What I hope to accomplish is to empower young people to take charge of their education no matter where they live, because the legislatures in states with abstinence-only education and principals of private schools that refuse to teach students about anything remotely useful in health class shouldn’t dictate the quality and type of education that a student receives. Students, you all must hold your education in your own hands, and it is absolutely crucial that you seek out opportunities to learn outside of the classroom to prepare yourself for your future, ensure that you remain safe and healthy, and empower yourself to be prepared about the things you want to undertake in order to attain the life that you want to have. I hope that Education from an Equal becomes a jumping off place of sorts, one that inspires you to further your knowledge and education outside the scope of what I discuss and critique, so you can form your own ideas surrounding the kind of information you believe you should be taught.
I implore you to empower yourself by gaining the education you desire and deserve, and I hope you tune into the first episode, airing on Sunday, March 3rd, where we will be critiquing states with abstinence-only education, discussing pregnancy prevention and pregnancy options, and evaluating the effects of imposing a constricting belief system on teens.
Thank you so much for listening to the introductory episode of the first season of Education from an Equal.
The Counterintuitive Effect of Abstinence-Only Education
Hello. I’m Natalie Goldberg, and welcome to Education from an Equal!
Obviously, in discussing health in America, the first thing I had to touch on was abstinence-only education, something the United States is unfortunately famous for. Today we’re going to be discussing the issues with the way that health class tackles the issue of contraception and pregnancy! In another episode, we will discuss curriculum regarding STD prevention through contraception, but this episode focuses specifically on pregnancy prevention and pregnancy options through the lense of abstinence-only education. I’m going to discuss the issues that I have personally faced in my own classroom, as well as the issues faced by my peers all around the country in order to re-examine and critique our national mindset. Then we’re going to be discussing some basic education regarding pre-pregnancy prevention and post-pregnancy options, and I will also provide resources for more information from doctors, Planned Parenthood, and other sources.
When I took health, I was given a note packet and told to fill out three bullet points about abortion, adoption, and keeping the baby. The same thing was done for all of the contraceptive options. We simply read a textbook page and mindlessly copied down what the different types of birth control were, and, scarily enough, this already antiquated curriculum advertised fertility awareness methods, also known as FAMs. I was shocked, as this seemed like the kind of birth control that people decades ago, who were not educated on the true reproductive processes, would use. To me, tracking your temperature, among other body processes, seemed outlandish as a contraceptive method. Though in the textbook it did state that these were not meant for teenage girls, as their menstrual cycles hadn’t stabilized yet, they were still included in our packet and textbook, and from an outsider perspective, probably looked pretty appealing to teens. They were free and could be performed without the knowledge of their parents. This unfortunately left the door open for many young girls to believe that using “Fertility Awareness Methods,” which are in fact, often dangerous and faulty birth control methods, were their only hope. Simply giving the disclaimer that Fertility Awareness Methods were not meant for teens does not do anything when no other resources for how to obtain other, proper forms of birth control are given. Obviously, I’m not going to describe what these FAMs are, but it is important to recognize that they do not belong in curriculum targeted at teenagers because they seem appealing, but in actuality do barely anything to prevent pregnancy in teenagers. There are a whole host of other methods of contraception, and schools could easily discuss what types of people these different forms would be right for and how to obtain them, rather than forcing students to learn about misleading methods and wasting their precious time.
With all of these different contraceptive methods, while they did go into detail, at least, in my school, regarding what they were, there was barely any information on how to utilize or even obtain them. Because of this, students are not able to implement any of the little information the school provided them with because they had no means of obtaining the contraception. In many cases, students will simply ignore the information, which leads to teen pregnancy on a massive scale.
Then there is the issue in general of abstinence-only education, which was luckily something I personally did not have to deal with. Abstinence-only education is the teaching that abstinence is the only moral option for students, and the real problem I have here is that morality is the most subjective concept of all time, and the simple fact that schools are teaching something that has moral implications, to me, goes against the constitution and the prevention of religion from infiltrating the school environment. Hear me out here, and I am not trying to lay all of the blame on evangelical christians, as many tend to do in these kinds of situations, because the issue of “moral abstinence” comes from many different religions, but that is really the core issue. Schools should not be toeing the line of religious freedom in schools, and to me, that’s one of the biggest arguments against abstinence-only education. From a simple constitutional perspective, it should not exist, because the morality often used to justify abstinence is based within religious doctrine, and from a logical perspective, abstinence-only education doesn’t hold any water either. Teens are going to have sex no matter what, and abstinence-only education only ensures that they will be participating in these behaviors unsafely. As of the release of this podcast, there is no concrete evidence that teaching kids in school about safe sex will lead to increased promiscuity. What there is concrete evidence of, however, is the way that abstinence-only education leads to teen pregnancy – on a massive scale.
Unsurprisingly, the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate of all developed countries. According to a 2013 report from the Guttmacher Institute, the top 6 states with the highest pregnancy rate were New Mexico, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana, and four of these states do not require any sex education. Simply from an examination of these top six states, we see a correlation between high teen pregnancy rates and abstinence-only education. The majority of researchers who have studied teen pregnancy rates in the United States often cite abstinence-only education as a major factor for the high rates.
Like it or not, students in the modern era have access to sexually explicit content on a massive scale. They are going to be exposed to sex and sexuality no matter how much schools try to control them. However, in the states that teach abstinence-only curriculum, they are leaving these students without any information on safe, protected, and in some cases, even consensual, sex so they remain having it unsafely, resulting in teen pregnancy.
From an outside perspective, it’s kind of hard to believe that the United States is underperforming its developed peers by so much in such crucial areas, but when the inner workings of the public school system and the lax national regulations regarding health education standards are examined, the problem looks a lot more feasible.
So, with this information, what would I want to see in a health classroom? Basically, more in-depth curriculum that details not only what the options are, but how to actually implement them in the safest way possible. With this, I want to mainly focus on what I am truly passionate about, which is birth control. I personally think that widespread use of contraception is the hallmark of an advanced society, and, the more people who use contraception, the less teen moms, less abortions, and less children in foster homes, which would all be incredibly beneficial to American society.
So first, let’s discuss means for getting birth control. If you feel comfortable discussing issues like these with your parents, the obvious first option is to ask them to make you an appointment with your doctor to discuss the contraception that could be right for you. If you don’t feel comfortable with your parents knowing about your use of contraception, your local Planned Parenthood can provide contraception, often for free or reduced cost, however, certain states may require you to tell your parents if you’re under eighteen. On my website, I have attached a document that contains some of the different state regulations.
More importantly than even this, though, is trying to figure out which birth control is right for you. This is absolutely crucial because schools rarely ever discuss this. Schools might give you options for birth control if you are lucky enough to not be taught abstinence-only education, but very few schools will tell you who each of these methods is right for, and the real advantages and disadvantages of each one.
If you need more information than what I provide you with here, there is a quiz Planned Parenthood has to determine which birth control is right for you. This resource will be linked on my website.
So the current most popular form of contraception is the pill. While the pill is often lauded for its ease, consequences can arise when one forgets to take it on time. This form of contraception is only good if you can remember all the time, every day, which is harder than it sounds even if you set multiple alarms. This can be dangerous for students that have a lot on their mind and tend to be forgetful, because if you miss more than two pills, you won't be protected from pregnancy for the rest of your cycle, which could be anywhere from a month to a few days without protection. Within this form of birth control however, there are two different types of pills that are available. First, the combination pill. This is the one that the majority of people use. As compared to the other type of pill, which is the mini-pill or progestin only pill, the combination pill is better at preventing pregnancy, as well as better at preventing breakthrough bleeding. In many cases, the combination pill actually will reduce acne, rather than cause it, which is a side effect that many people fear. Speaking of feared side effects, there is no evidence of the combination pill causing weight gain, but you can talk to your doctor if you think you are gaining weight because of it. Next, we have the mini-pill, or progestin only pill. Most often, this is prescribed in people who are sensitive to estrogen or are currently breastfeeding. Unfortunately, this pill is less effective than the combination pill, which is why it is often less prescribed. Another reason why this may not be right for teens is that it is more sensitive to changes in the time you're taking, it whereas the combination pill can handle slight shifts. Basically, the main point regarding the pill is that if possible, you should take the combination pill, but if you are forgetful, neither of these options may be right for you. Luckily, there are plenty of other contraceptives!
The next two options I wanted to discuss were the arm implant and the IUD, because to me, they fit in a similar category because they are both very long-term options that require little to no upkeep. From many teens that I have spoken to, they state that the IUD and arm implants are great because they often don’t even remember that they’re there, but they still are protected against pregnancy! For the arm implant, you will have to be cut on the arm, but they numb the area and it is an incredibly non-invasive procedure, but that is something to consider if you do have anxiety surrounding knives or medical procedures. Though the implant is very small, it is technically visible, so ensure that you are in a place in your life where it would be safe for you to be utilizing a contraceptive. It can control pregnancy for around five years. Some people will experience breakthrough bleeding, but other people’s periods will completely stop. In this same vein, we have the IUD, which is another highly long-lasting method of birth control that is quite effective in preventing against pregnancy. Many people with IUDs end up completely stopping their period. One thing that I found quite interesting was that IUDs were best suited to a monogamous lifestyle because having sexual intercourse with multiple partners increases the risk of infection or pelvic inflammatory disease when you have an IUD. I think that this is something really important to consider for teens deciding which method of contraception is right for them, but it something that is oftentimes not included in curriculum.
Finally, we have condoms. With condoms, luckily, people often know the basics, however only 20 states require condom education, and with this, they often leave out the nuances that can change everything. The two nuances I wanted to discuss briefly today are condom storage and types of condoms. So, first and foremost, don’t keep condoms in your wallet! I know that this is a very popular joke within the media, and some schools do mention it in their curriculums, but there have been so many people that I have heard of keeping condoms in their wallet. This creates microtears which can lead to pregnancy as the sperm is able to move through the otherwise impenetrable membrane. Next, regarding flavored condoms, something that is rarely, if ever, discussed in schools, it is important to remember that these are only meant to be used for oral intercourse, and for other types, they are unsuitable. They can cause yeast infections or other bacterial infections if used improperly. I would also make the recommendation to utilize a condom in tandem with another form of contraception in order to prevent against STDs, but that is something we will be exploring in a different episode.
However, if one of these methods fail, which they might because none of them are one hundred percent foolproof, you might be worried about becoming pregnant. Or possibly, you may have had sex that was unprotected, in which case you would need Plan B.
In Oregon, where I live, luckily, emergency contraception is discussed in the classroom setting, however, in states like Texas, there is no discussion of emergency contraception like Plan B. As the Oregon health performance indicators list states: student should be able to “define the health benefits, risks and effectiveness rates of various methods of contraception, including abstinence, condoms, and emergency contraception.” However, what is really necessary for students is to understand how to actually obtain and utilize emergency contraception. Though another performance indicator states that student should learn how to “access medically-accurate resources that provide assistance around sexual health, pregnancy, and emergency contraception,” in my experience, this performance indicator has not been upheld. The real issue here is that even in states like Oregon, where there are performance indicators outlining the desired aspects of my curriculum, there remains problems and holes in the information provided to students. In states where they have abstinence-only education curriculum, there is no semblance of effort to even begin to delve into crucial topics such as emergency contraception. So, today, I wanted to answer the question, what is plan B?, in order to benefit the students who are living in these abstinence-only states.
Plan B is, according to its website is “a backup plan that helps prevent pregnancy when taken as directed within 72 hours after unprotected sex or birth control failure.” Today, Plan B is available at many different stores, and anyone of any age can purchase it over-the-counter. If you have the money to purchase it, it is most likely available at your local drugstore. However, it is usually sold for much cheaper on Amazon, though emergency contraceptives are time sensitive, so, unless you have Amazon prime, it would be prudent to purchase it ahead of time, or just go to the drugstore. Additionally, if you do not have the money to purchase Plan B, or another type of emergency contraception, they are often available for free or reduced cost at your local Planned Parenthood. If you are concerned, call ahead and see their policy on providing free emergency contraception.
Next, it is also crucial to broach the uncomfortable topic of what to do if you find yourself in a situation where you are pregnant. Like the worksheet from my own health class, I will be splitting this into three sections, though I will obviously go into more detail than a simple three bullet point list. The first option, and often most taboo, is abortion.
With abortion, there are pros and cons. The pros are that you do not have to complete the pregnancy and go through the oftentimes taxing birthing process, as well as the fact that you do not have to go through the economic hardships of prenatal and postnatal medical care. The cons, however, are that it can be quite difficult, both mentally and logistically. For some people, it can be difficult to reckon the concept of abortion with their moral or religious beliefs. Logistically, it can be hard to obtain an abortion if you don’t have the money or the parental consent, in some states. In the resources section on the transcripts page of my website, I will put the links to some opinion pieces from women who had an abortion and either felt benefited by it or who regretted it, so you can develop your opinion from both sides. With a controversial topic like this, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to push a certain agenda, which I believe is crucial in the school environment as well. I believe that everyone should have the option of abortion, but no one should be forced to have one, and the information provided within the curriculum should reflect that sentiment. Finally, with abortion, I wanted to bring something up that is not a part of any curriculum that I am aware of, which is the issue of crisis pregnancy centers. Crisis pregnancy centers often masquerade as abortion clinics as a way to coerce women into not getting an abortion. If you are certain of your decision to obtain an abortion, there are a few ways to ensure that you do not end up at a crisis pregnancy center. The first way is to look carefully at their website, and look for language that is attempting to dissuade you from seeking an abortion. If you’re still unsure, the National Abortion Federation has a map that lists all abortion providers in a certain area, and if their name is not on there, it is most likely a crisis pregnancy center. In summary, abortion is the best option for someone who can reach emotional clarity regarding their morals and is unwilling or unable to go through the entirety of the pregnancy and birth process.
Moving on now to the second option, which is adoption. With this, the cons are evident. You are still forced to go through the pregnancy and birth process, and along with the effects on one’s body, there are also financial strains that may be placed on you in terms of prenatal care and the cost of a hospital birth. It is also crucial to recognize that in the case that you decide to pursue adoption, your condition will be obvious, and if you choose to remain in high school during your pregnancy, you may have a negative experience as a result of the social stigma against teen pregnancy. Another thing that is seldom discussed is that there is no promise of a home for your child, as the foster care and adoption system in America is incredibly antiquated and overcrowded. Similarly to abortion, you may feel regret for your decision, which can be really difficult emotionally. However, if you are morally or religiously against abortion, this may be the right option for you. It can give you the chance to give your child a better life than they may have been able to have with you. Adoption is a good option for someone who has the financial ability to pay for prenatal care, supportive parents, strong mental strength, and an inherent moral desire to keep the child.
Finally, we have the option of keeping the baby. An important factor that goes into this decision that even the most modern of textbooks doesn’t discuss is the way that the media glorifies teen mothers. On YouTube, teen moms use their babies and lifestyles to rack up views and make money, and while it is inspiring to see these young women who had a child so young work to provide for their baby, these videos often glorify teen motherhood. It is incredibly difficult, and it is important to remember that what goes on behind the scenes may not match what is being portrayed on your screen. Keeping your pregnancy and raising the child would be an impossible feat without supportive parents and a steady stream of income. You would not only need to pay for prenatal care and the birthing process, but you would also need to pay for medical care and the basic needs of the baby as it grows up. It will also be difficult to continue your high school education and live a normal teen life, let alone go to college and further your education. Frankly, this is probably the option that requires the most work, but for some, it could be the most rewarding. Keeping the baby is a good option for those who have a steady financial situation and who have supportive parents, as well as those who are willing to give up education and sacrifice the normal high school lifestyle.
So, to review, in this episode, we discussed the biggest problems that I see within the national curriculum standards in terms of abstinence-only education through an examination of data from individual states and a discussion regarding the biggest issues of abstinence-only education. Then, we discussed contraception and post-conception options at length, detailing a brief synopsis of the kind of education that modern students deserve to see in their health classes.
Thank you so much for tuning in to the official first episode of Education from an Equal! The next episode will be released on Sunday, March 10th, and if you want a preview of what we will be discussing, be sure to check out my website: www.educationfromanequal.com See you next Sunday on Education from an Equal!
What Birth Control is Right for You Quiz: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/online-tools/what-right-birth-control-me
Why Toxic Masculinity Should be Taught In Health
Hello, I’m Natalie Goldberg and welcome to Education from an Equal.
Today, I wanted to discuss the concept of toxic masculinity, something that is not included in the majority of health curriculums, whether deemed fully inclusive or not, but that is intertwined within the many issues in the realm of health, whether that be consent, relationship-building, or even domestic violence. The issue of toxic masculinity is dramatically ingrained within the facets of health education, yet the topic is often left out. How does this gaping educational hole affect modern teens? We’ll explore the answer to this question and more in today’s episode.
Toxic masculinity is a huge societal contributor to rape, domestic violence, and overall inequity as men struggle to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. Because men have been taught for so long that they should not express emotion, whether by example from the men in their own lives, or from what they have seen in the media, they often have trouble coming to terms with their own emotions. Whether those emotions are anger, sadness, or even affection, it is difficult for them to express the way that they feel because emotions in any capacity are deemed “unmasculine.” This causes many men to attempt to deal with their emotions in ways that are deemed “acceptable” for men, but oftentimes, because of society’s skewed definition of manhood, these ways are detrimental to the men involved and the people around them. On TV, we see men punching walls, or worse, other people, instead of crying, or having a heart-to-heart with someone they feel close to. This translates into the real world as little boys who fight each other are deemed more socially acceptable to their peers than little boys who talk about their feelings and problems. At times, domestic violence also comes as a result of toxic masculinity. When men are unable to communicate to their partner the way that they are feeling about a fight or disagreement between the two, they resort to violent measures like the ones that they have been taught to mirror.
Not only does toxic masculinity affect the way that men express emotions, but it can also harm their sense of identity, which can lead to issues like sexual assault and harassment. Because of the toxically masculine culture, many boys grow up believing that to be “cool” or “popular” they need to be sexually experienced, leading to many boys to feel as though they need to have sex, pressuring the girls around them who may not be ready to do so into it.
With this, only 10 states reference the word “consent” in their entire health curriculum, and even those that do often discuss the issue at a surface level, with lessons regarding the meaning of “no” and the infamous consent is like a cup of tea video. While this information is crucial for teens, the majority of these curriculums do not address one of the main causes for these repeated breaches of consent, which is the sexual expectations that men are held up to. This issue is more broadly explored through the concept of toxic masculinity as a whole, as one of the root causes for the ridiculous and dangerous sexual expectations is the fact that concepts of masculinity as a whole are skewed.
Because there is no nationally regulated consent education, there is no uniform definition of consent. People may not know how to differentiate between a yes and a no, or an unclear answer. This lack of unanimity within the curriculums leaves it up to the teachers once again to discuss what consent really means, which creates more fog over an already foggy issue.
Another major issue I have with the current consent curriculum is that it tends to lean towards the side of victim-blaming. While the discussion of consent is required in Oregon health curriculum, in my own experience, the specific way in which the issues surrounding consent are brought to light can have effects that are actually detrimental. The explanation piece just isn’t there. The discussion of preventative measures regarding rape can be completely life-saving, but in tandem with these must come a frank and open discussion between students regarding why many women need to take these preventative measures in the first place. Many students from schools all over Oregon that I have spoken to have mentioned that teachers in their health classes often recommend not to wear revealing clothing, or be outwardly flirtatious, two things that are rampant within the reasonings of those who often blame women for rape. While the discussion of preventative measures is crucial, they should mainly be referred to measures such as pepper spray, or the buddy system, or even a reminder not to leave one’s drink alone at a party. And yes, many curriculums do discuss these things, however, what they are truly lacking, and what is crucial for these discussions to actually make an impact, is the origin of this issue. Why do women have to be cautious at parties and in cities? Why is it important to never go somewhere alone at night? Without conversations like these, the blame is indirectly placed on those who find themselves victims to these horrible crimes, as they ask themselves what would have gone differently had they accurately prepared. This also leaves the door open for people to blame the victim as well, as they have been taught time and time again that it is their job to protect themselves, not the job of others to treat them with basic respect. With a discussion of these causes, whether that be toxic masculinity, rape culture, or an array of other societal issues, much of the blame will be lifted, and students will be able to introspect regarding their own actions, creating a safer, more thoughtful environment within schools that will translate to the world as a whole.
In understanding all of this, we can see that the biggest problem with the current state of health curriculum is that it does not target the root of the consent issue. As has been made incredibly clear by the recent events of the #metoo movement, consent has been an issue for many years, and its standing in society has not seemed to improve in the slightest over the course of decades. To many, the solution is clear. We need education that is not simply surface-level, borderline pre-emptive victim-blaming advice to young girls and telling people they need to hear the word yes before proceeding. People know that when someone says no, it means to stop, not to consider stopping, or press to continue. The real problem is why they don’t listen.
So, we need to delve into toxic masculinity as a whole, specifically what I would like to see within consent curriculum that would hopefully be adopted nationwide in order to ensure uniform standards that the young people of today can be held to in terms of respect and consent
First and foremost, consent education similar to that of Oregon, Vermont, California with standards regarding consent, often beginning as early as kindergarten in some states, within normal interaction needs to implemented everywhere. There remains 42 states that do not mention consent in their health curriculum whatsoever. That is 42 states, the vast majority of the US, with young children not growing up understanding boundaries, sexual or otherwise, creating a dangerous environment that lacks the foundation for mutual respect. Consent in its basic form, defined as giving permission for something to happen, must be instilled within students everywhere in order to rectify the issues of the status quo.
However, our students deserve and require more than just a basic education. In this discussion of consent, it is crucial to target the root, which is what schools are not doing currently. So, with the discussion of sexual consent, students should also engage in a teacher-led discussion about what societal factors contribute to the current climate of our nation regarding sexual assault. What I envision in my perfect health curriculum is a discussion of consent and its applications, both sexual and physical, when students reach the age of high school, though they would already have a basic understanding as a result of the values of physical consent that would have been built into their curriculum as they continued through elementary and middle school. In addition, schools could continue to discuss the risk factors of sexual assault, like being alone at night or in a large city, or leaving your drink alone at parties, but in doing so could challenge the victim-blaming nature of these recommended practices by engaging in a discussion centered around why. Not only can we provide options for women to protect themselves from sexual assault and tell them reasons why, but we can also provide men with an ability to nip this issue in the bud, by creating an environment where they feel comfortable with emotion.
Toxic masculinity education not only helps deal with consent issues that arise from the sexual expectations of men, but it also introduces them to the ways that they are affected by the patriarchy, and it is a good way to introduce teenage boys who are not often educated on this sort of issue to the concept that feminism can benefit them as well. The main reason why many men are opposed to feminism is because they feel as though it is fighting directly against them, however, when they are exposed to the concept of toxic masculinity, they too can understand how they are also hurt by societal expectations.
I know that it can be very difficult for men to express their emotions in a society that is constantly shaming them for doing so. The most important thing to emphasis during these processes in these prospective discussions is to only ask these students to do what is comfortable for them, because forcing them to share their deepest secrets to the whole class is never a good idea. Maybe begin by asking them to show emotion to their close friends, and reminding them to never feel ashamed for crying or being emotional is a good start. They could discuss that the most healthy thing in a relationship is to use words and be vulnerable to express the way one is feeling. This overall can lead to a more positive dynamic that can influence a long lasting and fulfilling relationships between both men in friendships and in relationships.
It is also crucial that we do not blame young men for having difficulty with expressing their emotions. While this isn’t excusing the multitude of rapists and assaulters who have been influenced by toxic masculinity, the men who are simply struggling to express their emotions in a healthy way need support, not anger and blame. The more both women and men accept the struggle that men have as a result of the patriarchal and hyper-masculine values American society holds, the less problems there will be in the future where emotionally charged issues escalate to domestic violence, because men will have learned from a young age how to express their emotions in a healthy manner. As a man, especially an older man, the best thing that one can do is model this healthy, emotionally vulnerable behavior. This is especially true of male teachers discussing these issues. It is crucial not to shame students for expressing emotion, especially in a class like health where emotionally charged topics are rampant. Additionally, it is crucial that these classrooms are a safe place, and that teachers immediately address and punish any behavior or bullying that enforces toxic masculinity. In my own experience, teachers not doing so in class has been the main reason why health doesn’t feel like a safe environment.
If anyone takes anything away from this episode, it should be this: the patriarchy harms men as well as women, especially in terms of dictating the standard for male behavior that forces them into a box of masculinity. This in turn harms both men and women. If we are going to solve this problem, not only do we need to allow men and boys a space to discuss their feelings in order to foster a culture of acceptance, but we also need to challenge the antiquated way consent is being taught currently, as it often is discussed through the lense of victim-blaming. This change must begin within the school system if it is to have any effect on our culture.
So, in conclusion, consent education must be altered. Currently, even in states that claim to have fully inclusive education, the curriculum continues to lean towards victim-blaming and/or surface level analysis that does not combat the real problem: why. Why the breach of consent is such a prevalent issue in America today, which I believe to be toxic masculinity. What I would like to see in terms of schools going about this is a pointed discussion of toxic masculinity and rape culture alongside the basic discussions and definition of consent and risk factors. There are many avenues through which this could be accomplished, as there are a multitude of groups that are working to target men and boys in the discussion of consent and rape culture. One of the groups is ProMundo, whose educational materials I will be linking on my website in the TRANSCRIPTS section for this episode. ProMundo utilizes many of these same discussion topics that I have mentioned in their educational tools. If you are a teacher, I would very much recommend that you look into their educational materials.
Thank you so much for tuning in to the official second episode of Education from an Equal! The next episode will be released on Sunday, March 24th, two weeks from now, because I am trying out a new uploading schedule in an attempt to provide more deeply researched and analyzed content. If you want a preview of what we will be discussing in that next episode, be sure to check out my website: www.educationfromanequal.com See you on the 24th with the next episode of Education from an Equal.
How LGBTQ+ Students are Endangered by Lacking STD Education
Hello. I’m Natalie Goldberg and welcome to Education from an Equal!
Today, we will be discussing the need for LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education. Across the nation, queer students are left out of all of the most crucial aspects of sex education, contributing to the social stigma surrounding LGBTQ+ relationships, as well as putting an already at-risk community in even more danger. This danger is posed in two ways: with that of lacking STD education as well as the hazardousness of a lack of inclusivity in a classroom that so desperately needs it. We will be exploring the origin of this issue, and delving into some basic tips regarding LGBTQ+ specific STD education, as well as a discussion regarding individual identities and inclusivity for young, queer students.
STD education is often the most comprehensive aspect of sex education as a whole, even in areas where sex ed often tends to lack. While seemingly positive, this is often actually a result of a die-hard belief in fear tactics, think PowerPoint slides with giant projections of herpes-laden genitalia and the results of syphilis, in order to scare teens away from having sex. In terms of the berth of information and, in most cases, medical accuracy, the STD education seems adequate, even positive, from an outside view. However, take it inside the classroom, and you’ll gain even insight into where the problem lies.
STD education does not provide the proper resources for queer students, and, frankly, neither does any other aspect of health education.
This problem again stems from the subjectivity of health as a whole. Because there remains no national standard for health education, the curriculum again remains in the hands of the teachers. This can be good, if teachers are open to queer identities and education that could support the students who possess them, but can pose a danger if there is a teacher who is homophobic, or feels pressured by the demographics of their school to be. I noticed the problems with the subjectivity of the health class experience first-hand. While in Oregon, there are luckily no “no promo homo” laws, however, the experiences that I had detail the importance of a national, standardized curriculum that does include LGBTQ+ identities in a positive manner. The combination of a lacking curriculum alongside an unwelcoming environment forced me to come to the realization that non-cisgender or hetereosexual identities were not being properly represented. First off, throughout the entire class, heteronormative family structures were praised, with one assignment I had still glaring in my memory: a worksheet, asking you to detail your mother’s experience giving birth to you. What about a child of two men? Or two women who choose to adopt? Or even single parents or infertile heterosexual couples? This singular assignment has stuck in my brain for over a year now, and it was so blatantly heteronormative and exclusionary. Additionally, the only real LGBTQ+ education we received was a paragraph to read, stuck under the heading of “Health Issues,” insinuating that an identity outside of the majority was one to be feared, even fixed. Finally, the issue of subjectivity came into play in my very own classroom, giving me even more reason to believe that a national curriculum was necessary. There were a group of boys in my health class who continuously made homophobic and transphobic remarks throughout the entire period, yet nothing was done to stop them, even when I was sure that my teacher was able to hear what they were saying. The lacking disciplinary action in tandem with the already non-inclusive curriculum created an environment that perpetuated the social stigma surrounding queer identities, rather than doing what it should have been and educating those who were ignorant.
However, the biggest problem standing in the way of LGBTQ+ students receiving the most beneficial and comprehensive education is “no promo homo” laws, as I mentioned earlier. These laws prohibit the “promotion” of homosexuality, basically forcing all discussing regarding LGBTQ+ people to either halt or be negative, both of which harm students who are a part of this community. If discussion is completely closed, students will often feel as though they do not belong within a school environment, or that their identity is not valid, often leading to depression, internalized homophobia, and even suicide. Additionally, they won’t be receiving any information on safe LGBTQ+ sex, so they will be at a higher risk for STDs. With negative discussions surrounding queer identities, LGBTQ+ students will often be at a higher risk for bullying, or may internalize these negative feelings if they are not yet out, again causing depression and suicide. They also may be getting false information regarding LGBTQ+ sex, which could also place them at higher risk for STDs.
It is clear that this issue poses a great threat, as students in the states who have these “no promo homo” laws, according to a GLSEN research brief, are more likely to experience harassment and assault, hear homophobic remarks, and are less likely to experience acceptance from their peers. This issue spans seven states, Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas, meaning around 10 million students are being taught in their very own classrooms that either their identities are not valid, or that they have to right to oppress other people for theirs. This problem clearly portrays itself with the issue of increased bullying and, unsurprisingly, an increased risk of suicide.
When viewing the issue of LGBTQ+ suicide, my heart breaks, not only for those who have been lost, but also because I see an incredibly simple solution to the problem, and it begins in the classroom. Many LGBTQ+ youth state that their reasoning for feeling so helpless and depressed is that they feel like no one will understand them or accept them for who they truly are, and, unfortunately, this issue is what makes them three times more likely to try to kill themselves. Transgender students are also at even more of a risk, being six times more likely to kill themselves than their cisgender/heterosexual peers, and this is also quite saddening, as the education regarding transgender identities is lacking as well. These feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and loneliness that many queer students feel can be alleviated by a discussion of these identities in class, fostering understanding, instead of promoting ignorance. We need to take action, because this issue is becoming more than just schoolyard bullies and teachers’ heads turned away from homophobic remarks. Students are dying on a massive scale, and there needs to be changes made in the school environment, beginning with health class.
While, as I stated earlier, the STD education in most states is relatively good, the reasoning behind the comprehensive approach must change. The fear-tactics reminiscent of the caricatured Coach Carr in Mean Girls that are currently employed in many schools across the nation not only create an unnecessary social stigma surrounding sex, but can also create resentment and distrust within students. If school officials truly want to keep their students safe from these sexually transmitted diseases, they should have open discussions with their students, clearly coming from a place of care. Instead of trying to scare students out of having sex, let’s acknowledge the fact of life for many teenagers and provide them with the proper resources to be as safe as possible. However, even with this relatively exhaustive curriculum, queer students are still left in the dust.
The two anti-STD resources that are most often left out of health curriculums are the two that apply directly to LGBTQ+ sexual intercourse, which are anti-HIV medication and dental dams. Similar to condoms, dental dams are thin sheets of plastic, however, rather than a cylindrical tube, the dental dam is a plastic square meant to be stretched over a vagina. Oftentimes, many women in relationships with other women believe that they are free from the possibility of contracting an STD simply because they are free from becoming pregnant, however, this is not the case, and it is necessary to use a dental dam in order to protect against this. I have linked some more resources regarding dental dams on the TRANSCRIPTS page of my website.
Next is the issue of anti-HIV medication. This is something that is truly life saving that is left out of the majority of health curriculums. More colloquially known as PEP and PrEP, these medications have been created to prevent against contracting AIDs. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylactic and PEP stands for post-exposure prophylactic. PrEP is taken every day by someone who does not have HIV and is in a regular situation where they are exposed to the virus, whether through their sexual preferences or their use of certain injectable drugs, and it decreases the risk of contracting the virus. PEP is taken after an emergency situation where someone may have been exposed to HIV, and, similarly to Plan B, the faster it is taken post-emergency, the better it works, and it can prevent exposure to the virus. However, where it differs from Plan B is that it must be taken consecutively for 28 days after it is started in order to decrease the possibility of contracting the virus. In addition to bringing about safety for the community as a whole, the inclusion and normalization of LGBTQ+ relationships and preventative measures that students can take can also contribute to a feeling of inclusion and acceptance among peers, or begin those feelings, creating a safer space overall.
Aside from the gaping hole left by not including these two aspects of STD protection, there are other places in a health curriculum that could stand to discuss queer identities. First,
LGBTQ+ identities should be brought up under the heading of bullying, as it is something often targeted by other students. A simple explanation of the different identities within the LGBTQ+ heading, as well as a discussion of the hardships queer people may face in the legal arena, and the fact that it is most certainly not a choice will suffice. Simply educating students about these issues from a young age will aid in combating ignorance. Engaging students in a discussion about what it means to be transgender, or how to react when a friend comes out, or the provision of resources for what to do if a student things that they may be LGBTQ+ will not only show students that their identities are represented, but also that they are respected. However, one issue I see arising with this is that only two states, California and Louisiana, prohibit the promotion of religion in class. To me, this is ridiculous, as it directly goes against the constitution’s clearly designated separation of church and state. Why are we still allowing public schools to imbed religion into the curriculum that is supposed to be factual and objective? This is one of the issues that strikes me as most important to change, and represents the dire need for a nationally regulated curriculum.
Additionally, in a discussion of toxic relationships, LGBTQ+ identities can often be left out, yet these students may experience toxic relationships that are different from those between heterosexual students. I am not going to go into major detail with this, as my next episode, premiering on April 5th, is going to go very in-depth with toxic relationships, including queer relationships. As a preview, one of the main examples of a queer specific toxic relationship trait is the threat of outing someone, something that non-LGBTQ+ people do not have to deal with.
Overall, with the major sex ed unit regarding STDs, most states have the information down, however, the antiquated fear tactics that are currently in use in many places need to change. Whether you show them pictures of herpes-laden genitalia or not, teens will experiment with sex, and it is the job of the education system to ensure that they are as safe and protected as possible, equipped with all of the necessary information. However, the burden of the education system is not just on educating its cisgender, heterosexual students: LGBTQ+ students deserve just as comprehensive and inclusive of an education. So today, we discussed the crucial addition of dental dams, as well as PrEP and PEP into the STD curriculums nationwide, as well as the benefit that stands to arise from an inclusion of LGBTQ+ identities and other information in the health unit regarding bullying. Simply making the classroom a warm and welcoming environment for students of all identities can drastically affect the current social stigma surrounding queer students, and it is crucial that we work towards national, standardized curriculum that benefits all students, no matter how they identify.
Thank you so much for tuning in to the third episode of Education from an Equal! The next episode will be released on Sunday, April 5th, and if you want a preview of what we will be discussing, be sure to check out my website: www.educationfromanequal.com See you then on Education from an Equal.
The Way We Ignore Domestic Abuse in Teenage Relationships
Hello, I’m Natalie Goldberg and this is Education from an Equal.
Today, I wanted to discuss something that is actually becoming a bigger part of the worldwide discussion for teenagers in high school, despite the fact that it is not being made a priority in their education. As people have begun to be more open about sexual assault as a result of the #metoo movement, people have also began to be more open regarding domestic abuse and the way that it has affected their lives. Men are coming out and stating that they have been abused by their female partners, but have not felt comfortable admitting to it for fear of cultural backlash. People in queer relationships have discussed their struggle with abusive partners threatening to out them. In an inspiring fashion, the world has began to open up to people in these vulnerable situations in order to make a tangible change with their struggle. Unfortunately, nationwide health curriculum regarding domestic abuse is not reflective of this cultural movement. Though domestic abuse education is definitely not as subpar as curriculum regarding sex or STDs, it still must be adjusted and tweaked to be relevant to the teens of the modern era, or it will do no good for the future of our nation. Before we get into it, I wanted to warn people about the content of this episode, as with a discussion of a topic as sensitive as this, there are bound to be some intense moments. If you are at all sensitive to domestic abuse or violence issues, I would recommend you skip this episode.
I never knew about the majority of domestic abuse issues prior to researching for this episode, besides the obvious ones often discussed in health class: physical, emotional, and verbal. Luckily, I have never experienced any types of domestic abuse, however, I have discussed with my friends from all over the country about their own experiences with toxic relationships where they were not even able to recognize the warning signs of their relationship becoming abusive, a direct result of the lacking health curriculum. These stories are heartbreaking, with young teenagers minimizing the abuse they were facing every day simply because they felt as though it wasn't important as they had never heard it discussed before. Since they had never heard of financial abuse, or of a woman abusing a man rather than vice versa, they felt as though the problems they were facing were all made up in their heads. This is a prime example of the necessity driving the switch to a nationalized, inclusive health curriculum that includes a full discussion of domestic abuse issues. If the domestic abuse curriculum doesn’t target issues facing modern teenagers, how will any of the advice be relevant and actually help to make a change within the lives of these teenagers. We will be discussing this question and more in today’s episode.
In health classes currently, the curriculum is actually not abysmal in terms of the discussion of toxic relationships. They do an acceptable job, but as time goes on and the curriculum is not updated, many of the things taught become irrelevant to modern teenagers. Things like verbal, physical, and emotional abuse are often mentioned and explained, however, they are not as frequently placed into the context of modern teens’ lives. With modern issues like digital verbal abuse on social media and with often undefined terms like “gaslighting,” it is oftentimes difficult for teens to relate to the antiquated curriculum. Additionally, many devastating forms of abuse are left out of the conversation altogether, making many teens feel as though they are making the issue up in their heads, when in reality they are experiencing incredibly traumatic forms of abuse. Issues like financial abuse, sexual abuse, reproductive abuse, abuse by a woman to a man, and abuse in LGBTQ+ or gender-non-conforming relationships are rarely, if ever discussed. This leaves some of the most vulnerable members of society without any means of dealing with their toxic or abusive relationships.
It is absolutely crucial that additions are made to the modern curriculum, because modern teens are experiencing modern forms of abuse that would be unrecognizable to the parents in today’s world. So the protection and education must come from the teachers in this generation.
The impetus for this change is clear, both through an examination of anecdotal evidence from my own life, where I have seen students minimize years long abuses because they have never heard what they were experiencing be discussed, as well as through statistics from loveisrespect.org. Prior to evaluating curriculums from different states in America, I didn’t believe that domestic abuse was even that prevalent amongst teens. However, as I looked into the data, I was shocked by the fact that nearly 1.5 million high school students in America experience physical abuse from a partner every year, and that one in three adolescents in the United States is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Not only were these two facts striking, but I also learned that women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, when I had previously thought that domestic abuse was not a “teen” issue.
After reading this statistic and understanding that 16, 17, and 18 year olds, all those still in high school, were the most likely to be affected by domestic abuse, I knew that this was one of the most important issues I was going to cover in my podcast. Not only are women ages 16-24 three time more likely to experience intimate partner violence than any other group, but violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18, again proving why it is so crucial to discuss this issue in high school specifically. Though I will be going over the different forms of domestic abuse that I believe should be covered in a national, inclusive health curriculum, I think what is more important to change about the current way in which we approach this topic is the context surrounding it. While it is very important to teach young teens the warning signs for teen dating violence in order to allow them to make the most safe and educated relationship decisions, it is also important to discuss the cultural issues behind teen domestic violence. As I discussed in my second episode, toxic masculinity is a huge contributor to this problem, and other issues similar to that should also be included within this unit in health. In order for the current state of rampant domestic violence in the United States to change, we must teach young people not to be abusive, rather than just teaching them when to get out of an abusive relationship. In order to accomplish this, I believe that the best course of action is to hold emotional intelligence and empathy trainings, especially with young boys. In order to erase the constant cultural narrative that boys have been taught about how masculinity and violence are intertwined, they must be exposed to ways in which they can appropriately express their feelings. Through discussions of proper verbal communication, self care in terms of taking time to cool off from an angering situation, and the impacts of intimate partner violence, progress will be made in terms of educating the future of our nation.
However, the responsibility to teach this to teens is not just as a result of their own lack of inability to recognize domestic violence, but also comes as a result of their parents. Eighty-one percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue, and, though 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a vast majority of parents could not correctly identify all the warning signs. Many of our parents have also never been exposed to the majority of these types of abuses in their own lives or educations, and thus have no way to recognize the issues. History cannot keep repeating itself. It is up to schools to educate teens in order to keep us safe and out of these toxic relationships, and so we can recognize signs in our friends as well, because many of the adults around us are unable to.
Though we discussed that a contextual shift in the discussion of domestic abuse is what is truly crucial, it is also important to understand the different forms of domestic abuse, specifically through the lense of teens. While I will be briefly going over emotion, physical, and verbal abuse, those three are usually covered in the health classes in most states to an acceptable degree, so I will focus the majority of the time on the lesser-discussed abuses. However, it is still important to discuss what these basic types are in order to develop a more nuanced understanding of the other types.
So, the first type of abuse that often comes to mind when a discussion of domestic abuse arises is physical abuse. Physical abuse can range from threats of physical violence accompanied by threatening body language to full on punching and attacks. Oftentimes, this is the most straightforward type of domestic violence to understand and recognize from an outside perspective. I will be linking a domestic abuse hotline, as well as hotlines specific to each of these different types of abuse on the TRANSCRIPTS page of my website.
Next is emotional abuse, which can come in many forms. Emotional abuse is often discussed in health classes, but I wanted to bring up some teen-relationship specific forms of emotional abuse in order to give a basic idea of what it is. Though emotional abuse can take many forms, here are some of the most common ones: feeling the need to ask for permission before doing something, someone demanding to know your passwords, blaming you for everything that's going wrong in their lives even when it doesn't relate to you, or incessantly calling or texting you to know where you are. Additionally, I wanted to bring up the term “gaslighting,” something that often occurs with emotional abuse. Gaslighting is manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity. Oftentimes, it can occur on such a small scale that it goes unnoticed, but if it continues for the duration of a relationship, it can lead to depression and isolation in the partner being emotionally targeted. The most important thing to remember in a discussion of emotional abuse is to not minimize your own feelings. If something someone is doing in a relationship is making you feel uncomfortable and unsafe, you shouldn’t ignore that feeling, and take action by calling a specialized hotline that can give you a detailed plan for what to do.
Finally, we have verbal abuse, which is important to adapt to modern teens. Though, like physical abuse, it is often relatively straightforward, it can also take place over technology complicating this otherwise straightforward issue. For example, it could be making posts on social media targeting your significant other, or spreading personal details about them on the internet.
Now moving on to the more rare types of abuse. We’re going to start with reproductive abuse, then go into sexual abuse, then financial abuse, and finally, LGBTQ+ specific abuse.
Something that has been on my mind a lot lately in terms of health curriculum is reproductive abuse, something that is not discussed at all in any curriculum that I have heard of so far. A major practice in reproductive abuse is something that is highly prevalent among teens as opposed to adults, known as “stealthing.” “Stealthing” is defined, according to Dictionary.com, as the act of removing a condom during sex without the consent of the partner. It’s actually illegal in many countries, and is a type of sexual assault. This practice is an unfortunate hallmark of the modern era that is important to bring up when talking about domestic abuse, as a discussion of why it is wrong and how to prevent against it could benefit young teens and help alleviate this abusive practice. Other forms of reproductive abuse can include lying about being on birth control, or forcing abortion or pregnancy on your partner without their consent. Overall, reproductive abuse is a lot about taking away someone’s bodily autonomy, and it something that is incredibly dangerous for teens. Because it is kept so hidden from many students, they may not know how to seek help if they are experiencing it, reinforcing its necessity for inclusion.
Next, sexual abuse is a very difficult subject to discuss for many, but in terms of intimate partner relationships, it can be hard to discern. Whether it comes in the form of marital rape or sexual exploitation, or even leaking someone’s intimate photographs, sexual abuse can be earth shattering for many people. One way it affects teens specifically is through the leaking of intimate photographs. Not only is this abusive, but it is also highly illegal, as it constitutes the provision of child pornography. Bringing up controversial issues like these within classrooms can expose teens to the consequences of their actions, and provoke thought regarding trust and safety within relationships, bettering the lives of teens all over America.
Though financial abuse is not as common in teens as it is with adults, as teens are not often financially independent in the first place, it is still crucial to include this in the curriculum as it would allow teens to have the information they need in order to stay out of financially abusive relationships in the future. Financial abuse is actually very common in cases where other types of domestic abuse are present, however, it is brought up a lot less than other types of abuse. In my opinion, it is often one of the most harmful, because it provides the person no avenue to leave their abuser, as they have no financial means of doing so.
As I discussed in the last episode, another important reason why health curriculums must include LGBTQ+ issues is because of domestic violence. There are actually multiple different forms of queer-specific domestic abuse, however, without having proper attention drawn to them in a classroom setting, young, inexperienced teens entering their first queer relationship may not even know that they are being subject to abuse. The first, and most obvious, aspect of queer-specific domestic abuse is threatening to out the other person in the relationship. Especially at the high school age, where students are almost always monetarily dependent on their parents, it is very dangerous for someone to be outed without their consent, as if they have unsupportive parents, this could mean losing their entire livelihood. It is never anyone else’s place to out someone, and it is important that through domestic abuse curriculum, this issue is addressed in order to protect vulnerable, queer students. Other aspects of LGBTQ+ specific domestic abuse would be purposefully using incorrect pronouns in order to refer to a partner that is socially transitioning, unless the other person has expressly asked you too in certain situations. Young, queer students are already an incredibly vulnerable population, yet issues like queer-specific domestic abuse are rarely, if ever, discussed, leaving the door open for even more discrimination and unease. With this, it can also be difficult to seek help for these problems without outing oneself, making it even more important that schools provide resources for students in these dangerous situations.
Prior to the conclusion of this show, I just wanted to make a note that throughout discussions of domestic violence, it is important that educators and students steer clear of victim blaming. With domestic abuse, sometimes discussions can lead to comments like, “maybe she shouldn’t have been on such close terms with her ex” or “maybe she did something to instigate the behavior,” when in reality, we should be focusing on condemning the abuse that took place. It is crucial to keep this in mind in order to ensure that these discussions remain positive and productive.
Today, we examined the need for domestic abuse education for teens through statistical analysis courtesy of loveisrespect.org, as well as through anecdotes from my own life. Clearly, modern era domestic abuse education that includes lesser known types of abuse like reproductive, sexual, financial, and LGBTQ+ specific is necessary to decrease the number of teens affected by domestic violence. As the cultural tides turn and open up discussions regarding domestic abuse and its effects, it is time for the learning environment to reflect this in order to shape the next generation.
Thank you so much for tuning in to the fourth episode of Education from an Equal! The next episode will be released on Sunday, April 21st, and if you want a preview of what we will be discussing, be sure to check out my website: www.educationfromanequal.com See you then on Education from an Equal.
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
https://www.thehotline.org (has specific resources for different types of abuse)
HOW MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA AND TEEN DRUG USE ARE INTERTWINED
Hello, I’m Natalie Goldberg and this is Education from an Equal.
Today, I want to discuss an epidemic that is taking over high schools across America: mental illness. Now more than ever teens are experiencing widespread depression and anxiety as a result of increasing collegiate expectations and media exposure. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “20% of American youth will experience some degree of depression,” and with this, “30% of depressed teens develop substance abuse disorder.” Additionally, according to the Child Mind Institute, “31.9% of adolescents will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of 18,” and again, “People suffering from anxiety disorders are almost twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than their counterparts.” Co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse, also known as comorbidity, is overtaking teenagers across America as they struggle against the stigma surrounding mental health and the lacking access to care. Teenagers will often attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in order to feel better, when in reality, what they need is therapy and/or properly prescribed medication. The current way both the drug curriculum and the mental health curriculum are approached is negative for teens. The mental health curriculum oftentimes contributes to stigma and doesn’t provide the appropriate resources, and the drug curriculum resorts to blame and fear tactics too often. This is why I chose to combine the two topics, as they are so intertwined and, with the modern state of mental health and drug use in this nation, they must be addressed in tandem.
In class, I have experienced both sides of this struggle. Across the nation, drug education is very one-note, with lessons focusing only on the legality of drug use. Even in Oregon, a state perceived to have relatively high quality sex education, the performance indicators utilized to gauge the quality of the learning in health class are not focusing on the truly important issue behind drug use: why teens are using it in the first place. Why focus on the outcomes when teens aren’t thinking about the future repercussions when they are choosing to experiment with drugs? Frankly, with performance indicators like HE.1.7.53: “explain the dangers and legal issues related to the use of steroids, performance enhancing drugs and controlled substances,” it is no wonder that so many schools in Oregon, let alone the entire nation, have trouble with drug use. A student in the midst of a depression is not going to be considering the legality regarding the drugs they are deciding to take to numb their mental suffering. As someone who struggles often with a mental illness, I have realized that at some points it does feel hopeless, as though the only way to get through life is to numb the feelings. While I was lucky enough to have a therapist to discuss my own mental health trials with, many friends I had were not as lucky, as either their parents didn’t believe in mental illness or they couldn’t afford therapy, and they felt as though they were forced to self-medicate, oftentimes with dangerous drugs. I know how hopeless it can feel to be struggling with a mental illness, but combined with the stigmatization of these struggles in health class coupled with the lacking drug education, it can feel like there is no proper way to turn. The two struggles that teens face are so conflated, proven both through statistical evidence regarding co-morbidity as well as anecdotal evident from my own life.
Rather than telling students not to use drugs, we need to combat the root of the issue, the reason why students are using drugs in the first place, which, oftentimes, is mental illness. While yes, some students just want to experiment with drugs for fun, the vast majority of students who utilize drugs stronger than alcohol or marijuana often do so in order to mask the pain that comes as a result of mental illness. While it is crucial for teens to get all of the information regarding the dangers of drugs and drug usage, it is even more important that the place the information is coming from is one of support, not anger.
So, with this, I want to discuss some of the drugs that I see utilized the most by teens struggling with mental illness in terms of their harms to teenage bodies and minds, but also in terms of healthy ways they could combat the mental illness or stress they are trying to deal with. I also want to humanize the stories of these drugs in order to model the way in which educators could shift their teaching to be more compassionate and understanding, rather than angry and shameful. In many cases of teen drug use, it is crucial that we look to the reason why they chose to use drugs in order to get the root of the problem. Though there are more drugs than those I plan to discuss, these are the main ones utilized by high schoolers.
The first and most obvious one is the Juul, and honestly, the problem with Juuls isn’t even the fault of teenagers. E-cigarette companies have been so obviously marketing to teens in the past few years that it is frankly disgusting. The flavors like creme brulee and strawberry milk make it obvious that these are not targeted at adults who want to quit smoking, and the Supreme patterned “juul wraps” ensure that children see Juuls simply as trendy accessories, rather than devices that can pose a great danger. Oftentimes, nicotine allows one to “take the edge off,” but why are kids looking to take the edge off in the first place? Because of the incredibly stressful atmosphere at many schools, kids who are pushed to succeed often turn to juuling in order to calm down. Yes, juuling is a problem of irresponsibility in teens and inability to comprehend the future effects of current actions, but it is also a result of the extraordinarily high expectations placed on teens. The issue of drug use, juuling specifically, must be approached from a place of compassion and understanding in order to actually impel teens to stop utilizing these dangerous drugs.
Recreational Xanax use has also hit record highs in teens. Though oftentimes used as a party drug, Xanax is meant to be an anti-anxiety medication, meaning that it can pose dangerously addictive consequences for anxiety prone people that abuse this medication. This is the perfect time to bring up the issue of self-medication versus proper medication administered by a medical professional. Many people think that if they have diagnosed themselves with anxiety, depression, or other medical illness, that it is appropriate to self-administer treatment with prescription drugs, however, that is not the case. Doctors are able to adjust dosages to cater to your needs, as well as help you avoid adverse reactions and side effects. With all prescription drugs, it is crucial that they are not used recreationally as they are not meant specifically for you, but with Xanax especially, it can pose great danger.
Like with Xanax, some people who feel as though they may have an attention deficit disorder may self-medicate with adderall. However, the more popular use for Adderall is by students who very blatantly do not have an attention deficit disorder and want to try to push themselves to accomplish more work and concentrate better. Adderall is oftentimes used by anxiety- and OCD-prone teens, portraying clearly the issue of substance abuse and mental illness comorbidity in teens. The danger of Adderall, however, is that it makes you dependent for the rest of your life and you are never able to naturally concentrate as well as you could prior. This drug use especially needs to be approached from a place of care, because the majority of those abusing Adderall are doing so because they feel immense pressure to succeed.
With these drugs and more, the reasoning behind the drug use is the most important place to turn in order to combat this issue. As we have seen, the current approach simply is failing. Teens continue to use drugs because the root issue is not being attacked, and the rampant mental illness that oftentimes triggers the drug use continues to run rampant.
Instead of focusing on the fact that teens are using dangerous drugs at a higher rate than ever before, maybe look to the reason why they are doing drugs. The job market is more competitive than ever before. It is so much more difficult to get into college than it was before, yet the same amount of spots at elite colleges are available. Not only does everyone have to get amazing SATs and a perfect GPA, but you have to have extracurriculars and a hook and interesting essays. It’s a lot of pressure for us as students to be under. And those who don’t have coping mechanisms, because they were never taught them in school or never saw them modeled at home, it is seemingly easy to turn to drugs. Moreover, there is a difference between the stereotypical experimentation with drugs that nearly every high school struggles with, and the large scale prescription drug abuse that is burgeoning within high schools across the nations, contributing to the opioid crisis and hiding the real problem that lies beneath the surface.
As we already discussed the issues with the drug curriculum, we now need to focus on the mental health curriculum. Mainly, there are two problems related to the mental health unit in health. First, that it does not address any of the stigma surrounding mental health that is the true underlying cause. Second, it does not come from a place of care, but rather a place of shaming and scolding which compels teens to ignore it.
First, the need to address stigma. There is so much stigma surrounding mental illness, both amongst peers and parents, that teens feel the need to self-medicate their mental illnesses in order to forget the stresses of their everyday life with nicotine and illegal prescription drugs. Because they don’t feel comfortable asking their parents for a therapist, or talking about their mental struggle with a friend or trusted adult, they often feel as though their only option is to turn to drugs because it allows them to temporarily ignore their struggle without having to tell anyone or even confront the issue fully. The main way that educators must combat this is to engage in open discussions with their students about mental health problems and their effects on teenagers, and ensure that the curriculum does not perpetuate stereotypes about those with mental illness. Stigma is one of the biggest issues that continues to harm those with mental illness and also contributes to the comorbidity of mental illness and substance abuse because it prevents people from asking for the help they truly need. It is crucial that resources are provided in class and it is made clear that asking for help is a sign of strength, rather than weakness.
Next, we need to alter the position from which education comes. One of the easiest possible changes that education providers can make is also one of the most influential. Changing the way in which the issue of teen mental health is approached in the classroom can drastically increase how receptive teens are to the information. When told exactly what to do, or what they are doing incorrectly, teens will often feel drawn to do the opposite as a result of their natural tendency to shy away from authority. If the issue of mental illness is approached in a way that blames teenagers for their struggles, they will be even more likely to turn away from the resources and help they need, and turn towards drugs and alcohol. This change comes with understanding the reasoning behind teen drug use, as if teachers can learn to be more compassionate about the reasons behind mental illness, they will be better able to relate to teens, develop positive classroom relationships, and provide the necessary resources.
Rather than doing drugs, it is imperative to attempt to utilize healthy coping mechanisms and this is also something that is crucial to talk about in class. Some healthy coping mechanisms are exercising, cooking, reading, watching TV, and talking to a friend. Anything that distracts you from the stressor at hand in a way that is not physically harmful, addictive, or detrimental to others is a good way to cope with the pressures of daily. If these healthy coping mechanisms do not work, it is crucial that you seek professional help, and in some cases, properly medicate yourself. I know that a lot of parents do not feel as though mental health is a worthy cause to seek help from medical professionals, but there are options that you can utilize. There are 24-hour helplines that you can call, and there are also low-cost therapy options, which I have linked on the TRANSCRIPTS page of my websites.
Overall, the main thing I want to hammer into this discussion is how deeply intertwined mental illness and substance abuse are. The comorbidity of these two issues is so high, and this comes as a direct result of the lacking education in both areas. Drug education is failing as a result of an inappropriate approach that lacks compassion and understanding. Mental health education is failing as a result of continued stigma. It is crucial that the narrative within these lessons shifts from one of blame and shame to one of a full understanding of the complicated reasons behind teen substance abuse and mental health. We need to address stigma, change the place from which education comes, and make drug education more compassionate because the future of our nation depends on it.
Thank you so much for tuning in to the fifth episode of Education from an Equal! As promised, I am going to shout out the winner of the quote contest! The winner is Jacob Kaplan! His favorite activism quote is “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” by Martin Luther King Jr. Follow him on Instagram @jacob.kaplan.04. Thanks for the support Jacob!
The next episode will be released on Sunday, May 5th, and if you want a preview of what we will be discussing, be sure to check out my website: www.educationfromanequal.com. Also, follow the podcast on Instagram @educationfromanequalpodcast. See you then on Education from an Equal.
SEASON ONE ROUNDUP/SEASON TWO PREVIEW:
BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM SEASON ONE AND A PREVIEW OF SEASON TWO
Hello, I’m Natalie Goldberg and this is Education from an Equal.
Thank you all so much for tuning into this short, but important episode! First and foremost, I want to recognize the extended break that I took from creating content, especially because it leads into an education-related issue that I feel is crucial to discuss in these summer months. As I mentioned in my mental health episode earlier in this season, there is more pressure than ever on today's teens to succeed, and oftentimes, that means taking on an excess of work, even in the summer. For me, this pressure is something I was struggling with. I knew immediately after my junior year, with the immense workload, this podcast, and extracurriculars, I would need a break, and I decided to just take it. As hard as it was to grant myself the time and to feel as though it was actually deserved, I know that in the long run it will be beneficial to my mental health and allow me to create even more content for this podcast. I appreciate the continued support and kind messages during this time and I wanted to let other teens know that taking time off during the summer and relaxing is not a crime, and that you shouldn’t feel guilty for it. The school system that we are a part of constantly pushes us away from the kind of rest we need in order to make us work harder and achieve more because we feel so pressured to.
So, with that announcement out of the way, for this episode, I want to reflect back on some of the things that we learned this season, as well as prepare you all for what’s to come. With each of the episodes in the first season I want to reiterate what I believe the most important takeaway was.
In the first episode, we discussed pregnancy prevention through a lens of abstinence only education. In my opinion, the most important takeaway is how egriousgously the United States is underperforming its developed peers when it comes to sex ed, and more specifically, the positive impact that a comprehensive sex ed curriculum would have on our country. It has been proven by the Guttmacher Institute that the states with comprehensive sex ed have a lower rate of teen pregnancy and STD acquistion, and if that alone isn’t reason enough to change the way the our country approaches sex ed, I don’t know what is.
With the second episode, a discussion of toxic masculinity and consent, the biggest takeaway by far is that educating about toxic masculinity and consent is beneficial to both genders, and that is a great way to introduce boys and young men to the idea that feminism can benefit them too. The main reason why many men are opposed to feminism is because they feel as though it is fighting directly against them, however, when they are exposed to the concept of toxic masculinity, they are able to understand how societal expectations can affect people, regardless of gender, and how that ties into the dangerous sexual expectations for men.
In terms of the third episode, a discussion of STD protection and LGBTQ+ inclusivity, the most important takeaway is that in order for sex education to truly be comprehensive, it must also cater to members of the LGBTQ+ community, and that any form of sex ed that we are pushing to nationalize must be representative and inclusive. Without doing so, we risk putting an already at-risk community in even more danger by leaving them susceptible to STDs and increasing the social stigma surrounding their identities.
For the fourth episode, related to domestic violence in teenagers specifically, the most important takeaway is how prevalent teen dating violence truly is. Teens should never feel alone in their struggle because, as unfortunate as it is, domestic abuse in teenage relationships is common. Nearly 1.5 million high school students in America experience physical abuse from a partner every year, and one in three adolescents in the United States is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. These statistics exemplify just how crucial it is to teach all the different forms of teen dating violence to high school students so they have the means to protect themselves and their peers.
For the fifth, and final episode, the biggest takeaway is the comorbidity of mental health problems and substance abuse. Co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse, also known as comorbidity, is overtaking teenagers across America as they struggle against the stigma surrounding mental health and lacking access to care, and instead turn to drugs and alcohol to ease their mental suffering. Understanding this issue will allow teens to feel less alone in their struggle and possibly give them the confidence to ask for help instead of using substances.
If this is your first time listening to Education from an Equal, feel free to check out my full length episodes that go in depth on each of the five different issues.
For the next season of Education from an Equal, I want to bring in some alternative, expert opinions. In the first season, I provided the type of information that I feel should be taught, but with this upcoming season, I want to take it a step further and figure out the means to actually implement and make some of these changes. As a student, I don’t always have all the implementation answers, especially being a student living in Oregon, where the sex-ed is relatively comprehensive, so I need input from both professionals and students with less comprehensive education. I am hoping to bring on some policy makers who are supportive of more comprehensive sex ed, as well as students from varying areas and backgrounds to share their opinions of what they would like to see in their health classes, or their indivudal experiences with non-inclusive sex ed and how it has affected them. I took into account some of your suggestions, and I understand that hearing other first-hand perspectives is paramount to creating a fully informed and well-rounded critique. With experts in both the education and political sphere, I hope to ask their opinions on the feasibility of a nationalized, comprehensive sex-ed curriculum, and how they feel it would be best to implement. In a more casual, interview style format, I hope to ask the crucial questions that others are refusing to ask in order to build a plan for creating the education system that we as students deserve. And, despite the fact that I am bringing in experts, I want to assure you that the podcast will stay true to its title. The education will still be coming from me, with the interview questions that are being posed clearly reflecting the interests and desires of everyday students. At the end of each episode, I will be summarizing the things that we talked about and including ways students can work to make change.
The next season of my podcast will be released in mid-December. Be sure to check out my website: www.educationfromanequal.com and follow the podcast on Instagram @educationfromanequalpodcast in order to receive updates, previews, and details about the upcoming season. See you soon on Education from an Equal.