Ignorance is destroying the world. Climate change is the most significant threat to the planet and could render it uninhabitable for humans in our children’s lifetimes. However, swaths of US schools lack basic climate change education, leaving the next generation without the knowledge or tools necessary to combat the devastating consequences of the reality of climate change. I reside in a state that actually, “stripped all mentions of human-caused climate change from statewide science guidelines while leaving the rest of the standards intact.”
This is abuse, plain and simple. There is no other way to describe setting our children up for such complete and utter failure.
Our educational institutions and shame-based family systems and dynamics are ruining our children’s future. We must end the systemic eradication of science-based education in favor of politicizing a truth about which there should be no politics. Teaching our children the truth about what is happening to the planet is not a partisan question and never will be.
The Coronavirus pandemic has brought the fundamental question of equity and gaps in constitutionally guaranteed equal access to education to the forefront, with online educational standards varying wildly, especially for special populations including English learners, homeless and youth from low-income families, and students with learning and other disabilities.
However, the supreme court has yet to agree that our children have a fundamental right to the basic literacy necessary to understand the constitution itself, thereby granting access to the power and knowledge of their rights as citizens of this country.
Every state has laws surrounding the concept of “educational neglect,” that recognize the need to provide children with adequate schooling. However, ideas regarding what “adequate schooling” means vary wildly, not only from state to state but family to family. Homeschooled children, for example, are not protected by the kinds of systems that require teachers to be mandatory reporters of child abuse, and the oversight school districts face with regard to curriculum and standards for teachers is completely absent for homeschooled children.
Tara Westover provides a brilliant account of the shocking neglect and abuse of her and her siblings while “homeschooled” in her memoir Educated. Westover escaped the vicious cycle of abuse and neglect, but she is an anomaly. When we don’t teach our children, they are left with nothing but the darkness of their own ignorance, too often stemming from the roots of our own.
Ignorance is not just perpetuated through issues surrounding access and equity, but the deeply important and preventative act of sex education. Within our school systems, teaching youth about sexuality in a manner both rooted in science and “evidence-based or evidence-informed,” is not required in 21 states, even though a host of research has shown that such education reduces sexual risk-taking behaviors. Healthy sexuality education can lead to lower instances of sexual abuse and assault, because knowledge is power, and when a child knows the difference between good and bad touch, they know how to talk about it and report it.
There are even six states that hold statutes referred to as, “no promo-homo laws,” which require sexual health education classes to portray LGB individuals in negative or inaccurate ways. For example, Alabama state law requires classes to, “emphasize, in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state” Alabama State Code § 16–40A-2(c)(8).
To top it all off, only eight states require schools to cover the topic of consent in sexual education.
How to combat all this ignorance
Ignorance is the opposite of bliss and leaves our children vulnerable in myriad ways. Allowing our kids to wallow in it is neglectful and abusive. We must do better not only for their sakes but also for the future of humanity.
However, with such wildly disparate laws governing what, who, and how we teach our kids, what can be done to protect them from ignorance?
There are a number of ways to combat ignorance, and these are just a few.
1. Know your school’s Title IX policy
The scope of Title IX is massive and includes “recruitment, admissions, and counseling; financial assistance; athletics; sex-based harassment, which encompasses sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence; treatment of pregnant and parenting students; discipline; single-sex education; and employment.” This policy will help you understand which officials are bound by mandatory reporting and the ways in which your child is both protected and the types of protection he or she is entitled to.
2. Teach your kids all the things the schools may or may not be
Familiarize yourself with the educational standards of your state, as well as the laws surrounding sex education where you live, and talk to your child about it. Fill in the gaps, and clear up misconceptions that come up in curricula that may or may not be rooted in unbiased, scientific research. Power Up, Speak Out has a great toolkit to help educate kids about healthy relationships, power dynamics, and consent. Use it or other tools like it.
Make sure your kids understand not only ways to protect themselves, but also how to avoid sexually harassing others. A survey of over 3,000 students found an overwhelming majority had never been taught this, or what to do if you are groped, catcalled, or treated in a sexually coercive way.
If your child’s school leaves fundamental information like climate change out of its curriculum, ensure you empower your child to learn about it through other means. Teach them to spread the word.
Show them that knowledge is power.
3. Help them understand what it means to be an ally
This guy became TikTok famous for doing the coolest thing: rescuing a girl from being sexually harassed by a man in a public place. Share stories like this with your kids and ensure they understand what it means to be an ally. Let them know not to use shaming language such as “slut,” and about the alarming and dangerous trend of “sexting,” which has resulted in more than one instance of suicide. Being an ally means letting peers know how and why doing this is illegal, immoral, and dangerous, and telling a trusted adult if the situation persists. It also means checking in with victims of cyberbullying or other forms of harassment.
Educate your children to be allies, and teach one another about what is and is not acceptable behavior and consent.
Education literally saves lives, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure our children, all of them, have access to equal and effective ways to access it. If we fail in this endeavor, we fail their future, and ours. We all have to act to make this better: parents, teachers, community members, and allies alike.