Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 3, 2007

Real People, Real Schools, Real Sex

I went to a teacher-training seminar on abstinence education (and character education) today. I had mixed feelings about going, since:

1) I don’t really want any more work added to my teaching load.

2) I’ve made a point over the years not to get lumped in with the prudish, naive, angry, abstinence-touting, abortion-clinic-protesting fringe of the Christian church. (Even though I agree in principle with much of what they say, their tone and tactics tend to do more overall harm than good in my opinion… while people like Dr. Dobson use sexuality and kids as blunt weapons to rally the troops, at the same time sneaking through the back door with a variety of other socially and politically conservative policies that twist Jesus’ teachings in strange ways.)

The teacher training today, however, was surprisingly engaging and useful. It was put on by Project Reality, publishers of the Game Plan program, sponsored and co-created by former NBA star A.C. Green.

Maybe I was okay with it precisely because it wasn’t put out by a bunch of “true believers” using a narrow (i.e. biblical) focus to create the message. To hear good secular developmental psychology that backs up the gospel is always a great encouragement to me. Especially when it’s focused on a hotbutton problem like rampant teen sexual activity (and its roots in our overly sexualized and commodified adult culture). Also nice to have a medical professional (a nurse), talking about it in non-stereotypical, fact-based terms. Even nice to have them acknowledge it as a problem in a non-alarmist, non-Nancy Grace sort of way. They acknowledged that religion and “faith-based organizations” can play a vital role, and the two presenters seemed to be Christians themselves, but to have God (or at least moral absolutes) behind most of what we were talking about –rather than laid heavily over the top of it all– made a difference.

There was a part of it that was very “sales-pitchy”, very Tony Robbins, and that grated on me some. Plus Project Reality’s main promotional photo — featuring beautiful smiling teens of every race, creed and income level (above $50K, that is, …or however much it takes to get that many acne-free teens so happy, clear-skinned, AND abstinent) –was just too plastic for words. But mostly today was just a bunch of teachers and counselors, learning how to convey to kids in an honest way how to do the right thing, even when it’s really hard. 

Weirdest part of all for me was meeting a teacher and principal at lunch from St. John Vianney, the parochial school I went to for one year, in 6th grade. It was in Northlake, a lower middle class suburb west of Chicago. So instead of just remembering feeling confused, sexually curious and geeky as a pre-teen, I had some actual representatives present, from the place where it all began. (And no, there weren’t any pervert priests or anything like that involved… I just recall learning a lot of new words that year, mostly referring to various parts of the human anatomy– but wait, you were eleven once. So you know what I mean. I don’t need to say any more.)


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