Helicopter Teaching. The Worst Thing We Can Do With Reproductive Health Education

Picture this.

A guest lecturer walks into a high school classroom and spends the next 50 minutes discussing sexually transmitted diseases. Then leaves. What is left behind is a teacher who is probably unable to answer questions about the lecture the following day or actually any day. Why? Because that is why the teacher had a guest lecturer in the first place, because they didn't feel that they could do the topic justice based on their knowledge base and/or their comfort level.

This is helicopter teaching. A lecturer helicopters in, drops their knowledge load, and then helicopters out. This has to stop. But let's be clear. I am not saying that our youth learning these topics in school needs to stop, I am referring to the type of information delivery.

Historically, teaching reproductive health to high school students has been patchy at best. Recent studies such as this one- 5 Maps that show how sex education in the US is failing and this one--The U.S. Just Got a D+ on Reproductive Health and Rights show graphs across the United States about how we are doing in this area of education. The results are abysmal. Perhaps one of the main reasons is its delivery or the lack thereof.

When children enter school, they start at the beginning. They are given age appropriate topics and these topics are taught in an age appropriate manner. These topics, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic are given every year. The students then have the opportunity to build on their knowledge yearly. This is what we call the K-12 plan. They get the topics yearly, build knowledge from the previous year; and construct a strong foundation of information that they should be able to draw from. Not so with reproductive health. Our kids are not given this topic K-12. If they are given this topic at all it usually is around 5th grade, then again in 7th or 8th grade, and then maybe, just maybe, they get it one more time while they are in high school. Keep in mind that when I say they are "given" this information during those time frames, it is not a semester long class, taught by someone who is qualified to teach the topic. Rather it is maybe a lecture or two, or if we are really fortunate it might be 1-2 weeks long. How well do you think our students would learn math if it were taught this way?

So why do we treat such an important topic this way? There are probably a lot of assumptions. We may say that reproductive health education is not as important as math or science. We might say there isn't enough time in the day to teach this topic, or that parents really don't want their kids learning this in school. But those are just convenient excuses we hide behind. The real reason is, we are not prepared to teach this topic K-12. We do not have curricula that are widely accepted. (However, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States aka SIECUS has a complete outline of what topics need to be covered K-12. You can find it here.)
We do not teach our educators how to teach this topic, and most importantly we do not WANT to teach this topic.

We do not want to teach this topic because we do not know HOW to teach this topic. Teachers are not given quality professional development in this area to be able to teach reproductive health effectively and, most importantly, accurately. They do not have a textbook specifically designed for a semester-long class surrounding this specialty. They may have a chapter in an outdated health textbook that briefly covers some of the main topics, such as sexually transmitted infections and contraception.

So I would like to propose a change in helicopter teaching. We need to empower our teachers to be able to teach this topic K-12. We can accomplish this by supporting and supplying quality professional development to our educators and insisting that they be certified to teach reproductive health. We then should supply them with an all-inclusive textbook that is not outdated and that can be a wonderful resource from which our students can learn. We should not rely on guest speakers into the classroom, unless of course it is to enhance a topic and not needed to teach the topic. Teachers should not be afraid to teach this, and if we give them the right tools they won't be.

Imagine that. Reproductive health K-12. What a novel idea.