We are a group of committed Catholic parents who in the spring of 2003 attempted to get the Benziger Sex education program (the most used sex education curriculum in the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis and many other dioceses across the country) eliminated from our large suburban parish school. This overview of our experience is intended for any parents that might be undertaking a similar task in your school. Hopefully, you may benefit from some of the lessons we learned through our experience. Please feel free to contact a member of our core group confidentially through Catholic Parents OnLine, we would be glad to share more specific details about curriculum, resources and lend moral support if possible.
While we have been, thus far, unsuccessful in achieving our ultimate goal, we have been successful in questioning the necessity for and the quality of the Benziger sex education program, educating ourselves and other parents to the, often harsh, realities of the state of Catholic schools in our archdiocese today and in demonstrating courage under fire through the power of the Holy Spirit. Although the war to protect the innocence of our children rages on, the seeds of change are being planted with every battle fought. These battles are worth fighting. Nothing is more rewarding than taking a stand for our children in God’s name!
Our experience began when a parent representative from our core group made a scheduled presentation at a School Board meeting, the Pastor and Principal were in attendance, stating concerns about the Benziger curriculum. At the conclusion of the presentation a request was made to eliminate the Benziger program and to form a committee to review and select a new curriculum. Additionally, an offer was made by the parent group to cover the entire cost of a replacement curriculum with the condition that it be one of the following series:Image of God Series, Faith and Life Series,or Project Genesis published by Leaflet Missal Company.
Initially, the Pastor refused to change the curriculum or form a committee. However, due to pressure from concerned parents, he agreed to form a committee that he would select. The committee consisted of the Pastor, the Principal, four teachers and two parents. There were six different curriculums reviewed by the teacher and parent representatives on the committee (the Pastor and Principal did not review the curriculums). Our core group of parents (which included one of the parent representatives on the committee) independently purchased and reviewed all the curriculums being considered. However, our group was prohibited from presenting any information, comments, questions and concerns directly to the committee.
There were no specific standards for review and comparison established prior to evaluation of the curriculums. Committee representatives reviewed only the curriculum they were responsible for and reported their findings back to the group. Their findings generally consisted of a brief summary and the reviewer’s personal opinion of the potential quality and effectiveness of the curriculum. Therefore, no serious discussion or comparison occurred, as the committee members (with the exception of the one parent representative from our core group who had helped to review all the curriculums) were limited to their knowledge of the Benziger program and the one other curriculum that they had reviewed. Of course all of the teachers were extremely familiar with the Benziger materials, as they have been instructing the program for several years.
Discussion regarding parental catechesis and eliminating any co-educational instruction were discussed but dismissed. Our Pastor in, collaboration with the Principal, then made the final decision regarding the selected curriculum, their decision was to stay with the Benziger program.
*An important note: in the course of reviewing these curriculums our group formed the opinion that the Growing in Love is by far the most graphic and alarming program being used by schools in this Archdiocese and other dioceses. We cannot recommend strongly enough the elimination of these materials from any and all Catholic schools. We have specific examples and data to support this recommendation.
The Catholic Church has consistently taught that parents are the first and primary educators of their children. The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (TMHS), the document that is the Church’s foremost authority regarding the sacred mystery of human sexuality and how to teach our children, further states that it is not only a right of parents to impart this knowledge directly to their children, but it is also their responsibility!
TMHS also tells us that the most delicate aspects of the marital act of love are best taught privately – in the heart of the home – on an individual basis, always keeping in mind each child’s stage of development (years of innocence) and protecting their modesty.
Whether or not parents have over time abdicated those duties or their duties were usurped by the school system, the fact remains that sex education has become firmly entrenched in our public and Catholic schools. Of particular offense is that much of the education is taking place in a co-educational setting. This type of environment only serves to break down the natural modesty of our children and minimize the sacred nature of human sexuality.
Finally if the Church, by way of the Catholic school, does cooperate with parents in providing this education it must be done with the full consent and knowledge of parents. The focus must be on parental catechesis not on prematurely and inadequately giving children sexual information. Most importantly, any sex education program must be predicated on a strong religious education curriculum! At the recent Catholic Bishops conference in Washington D.C. in November of 2003, a committee determined that the most popular textbooks currently being used to teach the faith in our Catholic schools are so deficient that they must be completely rewritten. (*Specific deficiencies were listed by the committee and all directly corresponded with deficiencies that our core group of parents had also identified in the sex education curriculums that we reviewed.) Most of the schools in this archdiocese use watered down religious education materials that cannot be distinguished from other Christian denominations.
If you intend to attempt reform you must be prepared to meet with often-great resistance from administration, teachers, other parents and perhaps even your Pastor and parish priests.
So where do you start?
- If possible, get your Pastor on board from the start. Enlist his help in laying the groundwork for change in your Catholic school.
- Get educated! Begin by reading the document The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, search out articles and books about chastity, view Catholic tapes, attend Catholic seminars and listen to Catholic radio (see resource list to follow.)
- Review the sex education curriculum currently being used in your school and compare to other possible curriculums.
- Sit in on classroom training.
- Identify other kindred organizations that believe in the promotion of chastity.
- Talk with parents in your school to educate them on your findings, from there identify a core group, with plenty of resolve, to strategize the best ways to affect change in your particular situation.
While each situation is different, we have assembled a list of the most important lessons that we have learned so far. We have heard similar thoughts and comments expressed from other groups attempting to change sex education in their schools. It is our hope that these may be of help to you.
- As a parent you know what is best for your child, never doubt that or allow yourself to be intimidated into thinking otherwise.
- The Bible and The Catechism of the Catholic Church provide all the information that children need to know about being a member of God’s family. No other curriculum is needed to “define” a family or teach about family life.
- The strongest religious education materials that we found in our review of multiple curriculums were the Image of God and the Faith and Life series both of which are published by Ignatius Press.
- Follow every procedure, policy, hurdle that the administration may require, your behavior must be charitable at all times.
- Do not use euphemisms, the opposition will want to call the program “Family Life”, you should always refer to it as what it is – Sex Education.
- An imprimatur does not mean that the materials are effective in teaching children about the Catholic faith, the sacred nature of marital love and in promoting chastity and it does not evaluate the age appropriateness of the materials.
- Get Dads involved in the process; they have a vital role in helping to affect change.
- The school should look to parents for input in every aspect of the children’s education.
- Always promote parental versus student education, we are the ones who need it.
- Emphasis of catechesis for adults and kids should be on formation not information.
- Research had shown that co-educational settings are most harmful to the promotion of chastity and protecting the modesty of children.
- Always operate in pairs to verify information heard.
- Parents are often defensive about the topic of sex education because parenting is so personal, focus should be on a better way for our kids.
- Be prepared to change your life, newfound knowledge in this area may leave you feeling uncomfortable. Take heart knowing that God will not lead you where He does not want you to go!