living The Education Revolution

RadicalSchoolmarm

​​​Sex Ed EmpowersYOUth!  

We know this because we see it in our students. We also know from personal experiences the damages that "bad" sex ed can cause. Gaia Democratic School provides science based, *comprehensive, holistic, REAL sex ed that is empowering and inclusive of all. We proudly support youth and advocate for their rights to information and resources.

Help us stay strong! Gaia needs your help healing from the sensationalism and attacks directed at our school because of our commitment to youth empowerment and comprehensive sex ed.

Your support will directly benefit all Gaia students through funding general operating costs. Support from this campaign will also help us to continue to serve all families through our sliding scale tuition policy. 90% of our students receive school subsidized tuition scholarships. Of course, funds will also support sexual health programming and staff. If we raise enough, Gaia hopes to offer free classes to youth outside of the Gaia Community.


​Donate here: 

http://igg.me/at/SexEdEmpowersYOUth/x/3425345

Donate here: http://igg.me/at/SexEdEmpowersYOUth/x/3425345


THE TOP SIX REASONS

WHY OUR SEX-ED CLASS

WENT ON A SPECIAL FIELD TRIP

By Starri Hedges, Radical Shoolmarm

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. 
SEX ED SAVES LIVES and EMPOWERS YOUTH. And YOU!

My experience as a human and as an educator has taught me this: SEX ED EMPOWERS YOUTH AND ADULTS. The more we know about our own bodies, the more we value our selves and make choices that reflect that value.


In case you didn’t hear the sensational headlines about me, I’m the teacher that brought a class of 11-17 year old students from Gaia Democratic School to a unique sex-positive store for a sex ed class and tour.
A parent got angry, pulled their kids from the school and contacted the press. Within 12 hours it was international news and being hugely misrepresented as “freaky teacher brings poor little preteens to a smut shop.” The right wing media seized on the story and a witch hunt ensued. We got all sorts of anti-sex ed, anti-gay hate mail and calls, strange religious and militia pamphlets, and negative internet reviews. Terrible things were said about our students and their families, our staff and of course, myself as the director of the school and chaperone of the field trip. The press stalked our school and harassed staff and students. 

To complicate matters, the city sent undercover inspectors into the store who issued a vague “warning” of some things that needed to be fixed--designated off limits to minors. Then they rescinded it 4 days later. No laws were broken but the misconceptions have been severe and caused all sorts of damage!

Worst of all, students who weren't even in the class or on the field trip have been taken out of the school and friendships among students have been damaged. As one student said, "The field trip in no way traumatized us, it was a great learning experience and very comfortable. However, the parents and press ripping our community apart has caused us real harm."

When the media frenzy was happening we were still in session at school. The Gaia Council and I felt that we had to protect students and staff from the media stalkers. We chose to stay quiet in hopes they would leave us alone. But now it’s summer and the time has come to speak up. There has been much speculation and slander about me and my reasons for arranging the field trip. I need to speak out, not just for my own reputation but also for other teachers and youth advocates who refuse to shame youth who demand access to sex ed.  Here, now, for all to know-- are the TRUE top six reasons that I took students on this unusual field trip and why you should support Gaia:

I BELIEVE IN ACADEMIC FREEDOM FOR ALL.

THAT INCLUDES YOUTH RIGHTS TO  REAL or "COMPREHENSIVE SEXUALITY  HEALTH EDUCATION"
(CSHE- defined below).


YOUTH HAVE THE RIGHT TO SEX ED WITH OR WITHOUT PARENTAL CONSENT OR KNOWLEDGE.

I TRUST YOUTH AND DEMOCRATIC EDUCATION. 

THE SHOP IS UNIQUE. SO IS OUR SCHOOL.

ABSTINENCE ONLY SEX ED IS NOT JUST SILLY, IT’S HARMFUL TO YOUTH.


More on each point:
1. I BELIEVE IN ACADEMIC FREEDOM FOR ALL.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM is the freedom to learn about what one wants to study. It is one the foremost guiding principle of Gaia Democratic School (GDS). At GDS we also value freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and democratic decision making. GDS students decide what activities they participate in and may come and go from classes as they choose. Students requested both the year-long Sexual Health classes and the field trip and they should NOT be shamed for that! Academic freedom includes the right to study subjects that are deemed controversial, complex, or uncomfortable. It also includes topics that contribute to students' empowerment and mental/physical health.

2. THAT INCLUDES YOUTH RIGHTS TO COMPREHENSIVE SEXUALITY EDUCATION (CSHE). KNOWLEDGE IS POWER AND SEX ED SAVES LIVES.

Here are some of the factors in how I developed Reason #2:               I have been working with youth and young adults for 20+ years, including my experience as a Sexual Health Educator and as a HIV Tester/Counselor at a queer youth center.

Giving an HIV positive test result to a youth is no fun--even these days when it’s not the death sentence that it used to be. It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I have lost beloved friends to AIDS. I also happened to became sexually active during the emergence of AIDS when fear and confusion was rampant. I believe it is vitally important for youth to be able to access knowledge that can save their lives and help them develop healthy sexualities.

By the way, the hate mail I got after the Rush Limbaugh show featured our school made for some interesting (and disturbing) reading. Many Rush fans seem to hate the very idea of sex ed. for youth, especially if it is inclusive and comprehensive (see definitions below). The anti-gay, anti-feminism sentiments are that if you teach sex ed. you must be a pervert.

Definition of Comprehensive Sexuality Education: 
CSE is the provision of accurate, factual and developmentally appropriate information and training on human sexuality topics. CSE understands sexuality as a positive, healthy part of life and teaches behavior that is respectful, responsible, non-exploitative and non-violent. CSE recognizes and respects individuality and a wide range of community norms, cultures, cultural beliefs, and language regarding healthy sexuality. CSE is designed to encourage and support youth in developing their identities. CSE recognizes the importance of communities, institutions and individuals working in partnership with families to raise sexually healthy children.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education Sexuality education programs are defined as those programs that build a foundation of knowledge and skills relating to human development, relationships, decision-making, abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention. Ideally, comprehensive sexuality education should start in kindergarten and continue through 12th grade. At each developmental stage, these programs teach age-appropriate, medically accurate information that builds on the knowledge and skills that were taught in the previous stage.

3. YOUTH HAVE THE RIGHT TO SEX ED WITH OR WITHOUT PARENTAL CONSENT OR KNOWLEDGE.
In Minnesota we have a law that all minors may access sexual health information and services (including access to birth control and treatment for sexually transmitted infections) with no requirement for parent notification or consent.

GDS students who purchased condoms (or “sexual products” as the media called them- while showing pictures of sex toys) were exercising their right to do so. An 11 year old GDS student stated that “I’m not sexually active right now but because I have already bought a condom, then when I am ready someday, I won’t feel all uncomfortable getting safer sex supplies if I need them.” 

Side note: When a concerned parent brought up the idea of lost innocence to field trip participants, an 11 year old said “I didn’t have a choice in the matter of losing my innocence because I started getting harassed by men on the street when I was 9 years old. This was totally different anyway because it was my own choice and I felt empowered.”

In case you are wondering about the permission slip issue that so much fuss has been made of, here’s the deal. Parents sign a form at the beginning of the year that covers activities and field trips throughout the year including those that are spontaneous and student led. I didn’t ask for permission to take students off campus as I already had permission for that. Student consent was given through the sign up and whoever wanted to go when the time came, just like all of our field trips. Some students chose not to discuss the trip with their parents. We may not like it, but everyone knows that talking to your parents about sex can be challenging and many youth need privacy.

4. I TRUST YOUTH AND DEMOCRATIC EDUCATION.
I know, I know. It can be really hard to trust youth sometimes. Then again, look at all the massive messes caused by grown ups. And no, our field trip wasn’t really a massive mess, but surely the media misinformation has made it into one by now! 

One of the main beliefs of our school is in the importance of trusting our students. They run the school and make important decisions, such as hiring, that require a lot of responsibility and follow through. My 28 years of experience as a student, parent and teacher involved in democratic education has proven to me (over and over again) that it works. 

I will also confess here that I really enjoy fulfilling students' requests. That's one of the top motivators for me as a teacher.

5. THE SHOP IS UNIQUE. SO IS OUR SCHOOL. We are very lucky to have such an amazing community resource as the Smitten Kitten. I realize that many people have never experienced such a shop like this and may have disgusting images of classic porn stores scenarios playing in their minds but that’s just not the case.

Here is our Board of Director’s public statement on the Smitten Kitten from June 3:

Gaia Democratic School is a small independent nonprofit school that was founded by and is run by our community of parents, students, and staff. We are a diverse community with a shared belief in the value of academic freedom.

Our field trip to Smitten Kitten, a locally owned business that serves as a community resource, has received sudden media interest. The GDS board of directors would like to address concerns raised in the media about a recent field trip taken by students in our Sexual Health class. This attention has created misinformation about the field trip.  

​For those who may not know, Smitten Kitten specializes in sexual education that provides literature, classes, products and protection for people of all sexualities and points along the gender spectrum. It is a nationally recognized leader in the promotion of safer sex supplies and human sexuality.

Despite the burst of publicity in our last weeks of school, Gaia Democratic School’s board of directors stands behind the premise of the field trip; we view it as a legitimate learning experience that relates directly to topics covered during our year-long Sexual Health class. Our in-class discussions paved the way to a store visit and the participants communicated to us that the trip was a positive educational experience. No student was required to attend.

We understand that sexuality is a complex and sensitive issue, which is why it is important to offer students access to accurate information and resources. We are proud to be a school that encourages health and is inclusive of all. Though the attention our school has received was not asked for, we embrace the opportunity to affirm our community’s longstanding commitment to academic freedom, youth empowerment, and student-led learning.

And then there is understanding our school which seems really hard for some folks.

Since we have gotten so much hate mail directed at us for being Democrats, it must be worth noting that some of us are, some of us aren’t, but Gaia actually has no political affiliations.The word democratic in our title actually refers to our practices and system of governance. We are the only democratic school in Minnesota and offer a truly unique option for youth to learn in freedom.

Wikipedia on Democratic Education: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_education

In a recent example of the community’s competence in self governance, the School Meeting passed a resolution that all field trips be approved at least 48 hours in advance by the School Meeting. For those who are unfamiliar with democratic education, the School Meeting is the governing body of the school. Meetings happen daily, and all students/staff attending that day discuss and vote on agenda items. Each person has one vote. Any individual may put items on the agenda for discussion or bring them up at the meeting.

6. ABSTINENCE ONLY SEX ED IS NOT JUST SILLY, IT’S HARMFUL TO YOUTH. Abstinence only based Sex Ed is a total fail. It hurts kids because it lies to them, puts them at greater risks, and can make them feel like freaks--in a negative way.


Helpful Links and Resources:

Link to Gaia Council Statement, June 2015: 

GDSCouncilPublicStatement2015.06.26.pdf
104.5 KB

Link to City Pages Article, June 29 2015:   http://www.citypages.com/news/teacher-starri-hedges-speaks-out-about-sex-shop-field-trip-7441954

Link to Gaia Board of Directors Statement, from June 3, 2015SKpressrelease2015.pdf
57.7 KB


Video- Jon Oliver on Sex Ed:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0jQz6jqQS0

Resources for Adults and Youth:
Scarleteen: http://www.scarleteen.com/
www.YouthResource.org
www.Teenwise.org
Advocatesforyouth.org
www.MySistahs.org
www.Ambientejoven.org 


The New Sex Ed/Reproductive/Sex Ed Justice:
http://strongfamiliesmovement.org/emerj


National Health Education Standards
http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sher/standards/index.htm

Articles:
https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2013/06/21/67411/lgbt-inclusive-sex-education-means-healthier-youth-and-safer-schools/

Give Teens What They Need to Make Healthy Decisions
http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/press-room/2521