Legislative Republicans have been working overtime to launch a series of attacks on Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. It seems they’re still steaming about a Democrat winning the office for the first time in 24 years.
They’ve tried to place the blame for long delays in processing private school vouchers at her feet even though those delays existed long before Hoffman’s tenure and are a direct result of legislators refusing to fully fund the ESA voucher program.
They’ve also attempted to strip Hoffman’s education department from administering ESA voucher funds and instead hand the duties over to the state treasurer, who just so happens to be a Republican.
But a new attack on Hoffman, one that sprouted up earlier this month at an event sponsored by an anti-LGBTQ organization, seems to be the one with staying power.
At issue is Hoffman’s stance that schools should be allowed to teach medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education.
Any phrase with the word “sex” in the title is a surefire way to whip conservatives into a frenzy. But combine it with “education,” and it’s tantamount to Armageddon.
According to House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Hoffman’s stance on sex ed makes her “a radical.” He doesn’t want the state “teaching my kids how to masturbate.”
Um, neither do I, Speaker Bowers.
Of course, Bowers makes these outrageous statements as a way to avoid debate on the merits of sex education. Debates require critical thinking, and critical thinking is incompatible with the rhetoric of a culture war.
Joining Bowers in his crusade is state Sen. Sylvia Allen, the legislator who recently lamented the “browning of America” and the fact that white women are “not reproducing ourselves” at the same rates as Hispanic women.
Allen believes comprehensive sex education isn’t a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies or help preteens understand their changing bodies, but rather a nefarious attempt to indoctrinate and sexualize our children. She’s so concerned that she announced her intention to introduce legislation to ban the teaching of human sexuality prior to fifth grade.
This is where the GOP’s war on sex ed gets dangerous.
Bowers and Allen hold important positions of power at the legislature, and when they decide to rally around an ideological issue, it can have serious consequences for our state, and in this case, our kids.
Comprehensive sex education covers much more than the physical act of intercourse. Anatomy, peer pressure, relationships, body changes, safety. It’s an age-appropriate approach that understands the social and emotional stages of children and teens, meaning six-year-olds are taught a much different curriculum than 13-year-olds.
But maybe you’re wondering why a six-year-old needs any understanding of human sexuality in the first place.
Unfortunately, it’s because we live in a society where adults prey on children, including adults in positions of trust, like priests, coaches and relatives.
Our kids need to understand the difference between good and bad touches, which parts of the body are private and the correct names for those parts, and why they shouldn’t keep secrets about someone who touches them.
It’s not surprising that Hoffman would support these types of programs – she’s a teacher and understands the value of education. But there’s another reason Hoffman and others should be lobbying for comprehensive sex ed.
As the Mirror reported last week, sex abuse prevention education is one of the recommendations being put forward by the Justice for Victims of Child Sex Abuse Task Force. If Allen’s bill to restrict human sexuality curriculum moves forward, it will be a direct contradiction to the task force’s recommendations.
Even with that knowledge, Bowers seems unwilling to budge on the issue. Perhaps it’s because he truly does not understand the difference between a simple talk about the “birds and the bees” and a comprehensive sexuality program. Or perhaps it’s because he’s more interested in politicizing a program that’s already misunderstood.
Signs point toward the latter.
In this age of #MeToo and high-profile sex abuse scandals such as USA Gymnastics, we cannot pretend we don’t understand the importance of sex abuse prevention or consent. Using it as a tool to damage political opponents or confuse the electorate is nothing short of enabling.
Bravo to Superintendent Hoffman for refusing to play their games and instead putting the safety of kids first.