By Simon Palmore ‘19
Hardly any St. Albans students, surely, would jump at the idea of sex education at St. Albans. They might try to jump out the window and flee campus, but they would hardly jump for joy. Sex ed is awkward. Sex ed can be patronizing. It can even seem pointless. All these adjectives, though, are overshadowed by one other: “crucial.” Sex ed is crucial—and no time is better for learning about sex and sexuality than in freshman year of high school.
St. Albans students spend one semester of their seventh-grade year in a course called “Decisions.” The course mixes sex ed with drug and alcohol education, and it is a required course for all students passing through the Lower School. The course has developed and improved significantly from when current seniors took it to the present: curricula on gender identity and LGBTQ relationships have replaced an abstinence-based approach to teaching about sex and sexuality, bringing the course into the modern day.
Not all St. Albans students pass through the Lower School, though, and thus in any given freshman class, some have been educated on these crucial topics and some have not. This disparity violates an unwritten goal of high school at St. Albans: that all boys, regardless of background, should graduate with the same base of knowledge. Without a high school addition to the current curriculum, the school fails its students in this small but important way.
Sex education often includes, but is not limited to, reproductive anatomy (what is what), reproductive physiology (how things work), safe sex (e.g. contraception and consent), societal attitudes toward sex, and the interpersonal nature of development, both sexually and socially. The first two points are both covered in high school. All St. Albans students take biology as freshmen, and human reproductive anatomy and physiology are part of the syllabus. This is the only required course that teaches this material. As one former freshman biology teacher once said, “Right, so, this may be the only time in your whole lives that you are taught about sex. That is why it is my responsibility, as your teacher, to teach you this content.” Not only is this an unfair burden to place on freshman biology teachers, who already teach a packed curriculum, but the few days that can be devoted to these complex topics are simply insufficient.
The other components of sex education are almost entirely neglected by the Upper School’s curriculum. There is no instruction on all the various forms of contraception, no discussion about sex’s role in society or in our relationships, and no LGBTQ-specific sex ed whatsoever. These lapses are a grave mistake. These topics fall to various clubs, like GSA (Gender Sexuality Alliance) and ASAP (Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention), who can 0nly educate those who decide to show up and pay attention. It is a shame and a mistake to send eighty young men to college every year without a complete guarantee that they all have the knowledge that one needs to navigate difficult and complicated issues that they will deal with in college and throughout their lives.
This new education would be relatively easy to implement. There is no shortage of adults at St. Albans and in the world that are qualified to teach sex ed. If there is no obvious choice within the school, then the school should hire someone. The course would not need to occupy an entire period in the block schedule. It could meet on a recurring basis during A Day Flex periods, or it could cycle through freshman advisories, or it could occupy any of the other time slots built into the block schedule.
Just this year, the St. Albans community has seen various examples of the need for sex ed. As young men, St. Albans students need to be taught not to suppress or mute themselves, but to channel themselves into adults that can speak openly, honestly, and with knowledge about sex and sexuality. A new sex ed curriculum would not be any sort of strange or unwarranted innovation to the high school experience; rather, it would fill a large, longstanding gap in the St. Albans education.