A few years back, I was asked to sit on a committee for a local school district to discuss their “health” standards, which I quickly learned was code for sex education. I sat in the room with school administrators, local clergy, and teachers to discuss the curriculum. I was the odd man out; growing up on the East Coast, I went to a public high school where my science teacher had a basket at the front of the class filled with condoms and candy. It became clear very quickly I was a stranger in a strange land.
The approach explained by the school district was a three-fold plan involving parents, religious institutions, and the school all holding equal responsibility in educating our youth. This is not the case with subjects like math or science; in those subjects, tests are given to measure how much material students have acquired. For health and sex education, I asked how they measure educational success? Is there a test?
I figured that perhaps the opponents of these standards could point to the low STD rate in our state, except Nebraska ranks in the lower 50% and some cases the bottom 25% in STDs per capita. So clearly, something isn’t working.
In recent months the state has started talking about Health Standards, including such radical ideas as respect for people of all genders, gender expressions, and gender identities. These standards are not leading the way; they are reacting to the world we live in. Our science and math books are routinely updated because new ideas and theorems are created, and our students must learn them to fully appreciate the world they inhabit. The health standards are not a political agenda; they are a reality! The earth is round; gravity exists, Elvis is dead, and being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is not a fad; it’s not a choice; it is their identity as people. How many people had to live in the dark over the past 50 years or more because we weren’t ready or knowledgeable enough to talk about gender identity and sexual identity.
In 2014 my kids received a book entitled “The Purim Superhero” where the main character has two dads. My kids, living in Omaha, thought nothing of it because the book brought to life the world they already lived in. They have friends in their classes who have parents of the same gender; they didn’t care about the two dads; they loved the story about Purim.
In Judaism, we just began re-reading the Book of Genesis. Genesis 1:27, it says “God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” As Nebraskans who love our bible (or at least the parts that serve our needs), are we prepared to say that God did not create those gay, transgender, queer individuals in God’s image? Does the God you pray to make mistakes? I certainly get angry at my God; there are times when I yell at the heavens because I don’t understand, but never would I say that one of God’s children is not created in God’s image.
The health standards are the new math theorem of the day. They are not making up something new; they are explaining something that we didn’t fully understand before now. Health standards, as much as some may not want to admit it has evolved. In the 60’s sex education was mainly taught to women about menstruation, to the ’70s when the pill was discussed to the ’80s when using a condom began to be taught. The education matched what was going on in the world to keep our kids safe, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The health standards in Nebraska are no different; they are trying to keep our kids safe. If the health standards were creating gender identity and sexual orientation, I could appreciate the outrage. Yet that is not what is being done. These selfless individuals are trying to protect our kids. Our kids who get into trouble, no matter how well we raise them, our kids who stay out late even when they have a curfew, our kids who may even grow up and have different political views than we do. The authors want what we should all want, for our kids to be safe and proud that they were created in God’s image.