Mathia Lee used to deliver AWARE’s Comprehensive Sex Education to schools, before it was axed in the wake of organised protests by the Religious Right. Last Sunday, she delivered a talk at People Like Us’ Indignation about her experiences. She spoke in her personal capacity, not as a representative of AWARE. I don’t intend to report on her talk in its entirety, because I think we have a video of it and it may eventually end up on Youtube, but I thought I’d share with readers two thoughts that hit me as I listened to her. These are MY THOUGHTS, not her words.
Her assignments were only to all-girl schools, she said. And even then, she had the impression that the pupils were carefully selected for her sessions. To paraphrase what she said (and my paraphrasing may not be accurate – we shall see in due course from the video) she had the impression that the girls from the “better” classes – the “good” girls? – were not at her talks. For want of a better word, the “bad” girls were selected for sex education.
Listening to what she said, it seemed to me then that in our educators’ minds, sex “education” is not education, but a form of morality instruction or reformative training. The outcome isn’t to encourage pupils to discover and think but to be warned to stay on the straight and narrow. So this entire debate we are having in the public sphere about sex or sexuality education may be missing the point. We think of sex education as EDUCATION and we are debating what should be the content, but the teachers and principals involved and maybe the entire Education Ministry see it as morality instruction, which means they don’t really want discussion or the introduction of ideas that spawn discussion. At heart, they just want the riot act read to wayward kids.
The second thought that occurred to me, from another part of her talk – and not unrelated to the first – came during the Q&A (I think) when she said there were always teachers sitting in her audience, monitoring what she said. On the subject of lesbianism, she said, she sometimes encountered teachers who felt that the package she delivered was not stern enough; that the neutral tone towards different sexualities contained in AWARE’s package should give way to a final word as decreed by the Ministry of Education. Not just give way, but the decreed message had to be hammered home. Thus to any girl who raised any question about lesbianism, she had to reply by saying that male homosexuality is against the law. This was the decreed reply, never mind that it was irrelevant to girls, or tangential to the question asked. Never mind too the fact that lesbian sex is very much legal.