OPINION: The Hawai`i Republican Assembly vs. Sex Ed

December 27, 2013, 3:14 PM HST · Updated January 9, 1:26 PM
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By Nate Gaddis

condomPenises, vaginas, breasts, erections, pubic hair, intercourse, anal sex, oral sex, condoms, lubricant ….

Whew.

We figured it was best to present any awkward terminology in this article up-front. We’ll do our best from here on out to play it straight …er, appropriate.

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The Problem with “Pono”

During the recent special session to debate gay marriage at the Hawai`i state Legislature, Republican Sen. Sam Slom, who is quite rigidly opposed to homosexual unions, waved around a pamphlet from a pilot sex-ed program at public schools that he claimed taught students homosexual lifestyles were appropriate.

Never mind that the Hawai`i Department of Education is required to notify parents of controversial classroom subject matter and give parents an opportunity to “opt-out” their children from the lesson.

The program, named “Pono Choices,” is an experimental sexual education curriculum aimed at 7th graders and developed by the University of Hawai`i. It began a trial run in more than a dozen public schools starting in 2012.

Slom, along with GOP Rep. Bob McDermott, held a press conference on Dec. 18 to blast DOE officials for allegedly refusing to hand over the materials contained in the curriculum. Speaking at the podium, Slom described a “total lack of transparency” on the part of the DOE.

Sen. Sam Slom. File photo.

Sen. Sam Slom. File photo.

But the DOE had in fact offered to show the materials to the lawmakers, with the caveat that they must first sit down for an orientation session. When questioned about the DOE’s offer at the press conference, Slom insisted that he and McDermott were being treated “like children.”

The DOE itself suspended implementation of the curriculum for two weeks in early December to review the controversy, but has since deemed the materials appropriate for the classroom.

This week, the Hawai`i Republican Assembly (HIRA), a group that calls itself “the Republican wing of the Republican party,” announced that they had obtained a copy of the Pono Choices program outline for teachers.

HIRA president Tito Montes blasted the program in a statement on the group’s website, going so far as to call the curriculum a “mind-blowing crash course in prurience, permissiveness and perversion.”

Now this we had to see.

HIRA’s Flimsy Argument

Before we begin, here’s a link to the outline itself. Just FYI though, according to HIRA, you should Brace yourselves. The content within definitely demonstrates lower values.”

Part of the curriculum Montes is fuming over includes video presentations, which HIRA’s president claims are meant to “clearly to give permission to children to engage in risky behavior rather than to avoid it.”

The cover of the "Pono Choices" outline for teachers. Image courtesy HIRA.

The cover of the “Pono Choices” outline for teachers. Image courtesy HIRA.

One of the videos that HIRA’s president takes issue with features a conversation about sex, held between two teen girls getting ready for a date. Montes describes the video as imparting “contradicting values and low moral standards.”

So what are the two teen girls in the video discussing? Abstinence, ironically. By the end of the clip, both girls have decided that they will choose to abstain from sex.

Another part of the curriculum Montes seems to find offensive is a section where students engage in “sexually-charged” role-play scenarios with each other.

But as anyone bothering to actually read the material would discover, the role-playing scenarios (or at least the ones we read about) were designed for students to practice refusing requests for sexual activity.

The curriculum does introduce students (if they haven’t yet been) to the various types of sexual acts human beings engage in, and teaches them how to protect themselves if they choose to be sexually active.

In one of the videos linked to in the outline, students are advised to “Use a NEW condom for every act of vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse.” Montes specifically calls out these instructions as “suggestive advice masked as concern.”

We prefer the term “basic sanitation.”

Now, it’s important to note that within the teaching materials there are visual representations of genitals. One video (which Montes calls “shocking”), features detailed drawings of penises, vaginas, and breasts of various shapes and sizes.

But the point of this particular video isn’t to titillate (watch it here to judge for yourself), but rather to reassure teens that no matter what form their genitals take during puberty, they themselves are perfectly normal.

Considering the botoxed, lifted and air-brushed images of perfection teens are bombarded with in popular culture, adjusting their expectations of their own bodies (and those of their peers) may not be a bad idea.

Pono Parenting

In his statement, Montes fumes over what he sees as a threat to academic performance, writing, “Here is what our children are learning instead of improving their math skills, writing skills, and reading comprehension,” then later decries attempts to “sexualize and confuse the young minds and young bodies of our keiki ….”

We’re not sure if bodies can actually be confused, but oh well.

For all of the misinformation HIRA and Montes are spreading over Pono Choices, there is one important point they are managing to convey effectively:

Parents should play a primary role in a child’s education.

Although public education isn’t meant to replace parents as teachers (there are no laws against home-schooling), far too many parents allow learning to stop the minute their children step out of their classrooms, and far too few are aware of what their children are being taught within the walls of the public school system.

If there’s a silver lining to be had in Sen. Slom and HIRA storming around the capitol demanding “transparency,” it would be parents taking a bigger interest in everything being taught in classrooms.

Not just the birds and the bees.

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