By Sarah Tate Chambers
Maggie Gilman is a dear friend of mine from my first two years at Goshen College. She’s a lovely woman who has wonderful thoughts and does magnificent work. Enjoy!
Studying immigration issues, and different struggles people are facing here in south Texas
In the short week we’ve been here in San Antonio, I have read, seen, and heard about many different overwhelming problems here within the US, along the borderlands, and internationally. Each issue seems to be connected somehow, in some way, whether it has to do with economics, societal (negative) norms, politics, language, race, sexuality, or gender. Looking just at the challenges within the educational system here in San Antonio, I’ve begun to see not only the reality of higher dropout rates, but also the astronomically higher rates of teen pregnancy. San Antonio’s teen parent population is 75% higher than the national average, which can unfortunately contribute to the dropout rate.
This week I’ve had the privilege of shadowing two different social workers, one who works in a high school with all students and one who travels to different middle schools and high schools in her district with the Teen Parent Program. While spending time with these kids and their school officials, I’ve observed very positive and concerning behaviors. There is some recognition that these teen parents are just kids trapped in an overwhelming and somewhat impossible situation beyond their control, and some of the teen parents (or teen parents-to-be) do have “attitude issues” and can resist the help being offered. However, there are still many adults who react very judgmentally, looking only at the surface and having very little compassion for these kids, ignoring the fact that it is us who have failed to provide America’s children with the tools to make informed decisions about sex and sexual experiences. Though it may be easier to do this blaming of teens for “stupidly” getting sexually involved, I believe that blame should also be placed on us as voting citizens, on our governmental policies, and on US public school system.
The result of the “Abstinence Only” approach to sexual education is higher rates of STI’s among increasingly younger teens, higher rates of teen pregnancy, and an emotional void in sexual relations. Yet we cannot expect kids to figure out healthy sexual boundaries, birth control options, and STI prevention on their own, especially in light of the things they are exposed to everyday in American culture. Unfortunately, we sometimes label these sexually active teens in damaging ways that affect our ability to treat them with respect, dignity, and love. We need to acknowledge that, when we refuse to simply talk about these realities, we abandon our younger generation in their struggle to grow holistically and figure out positive decision-making methods.
As a Christian, I believe that it is realistic and necessary to provide adequate, comprehensive sex education to help protect our communities and children, and to give them the tools to make better, healthy decisions in the future. We must realize that part of loving our neighbors, and acting as Christ, is giving the information and tools to our kids to have healthy, whole lives, and this includes the fact that our children do have sexual desires, will be curious about sexual experiences, and will eventually experiment. But we must also have a space for acknowledging and emotionally supporting those who do not wait, to keep encouraging them to make safe choices and build up their capacity to create positive boundaries for themselves.
If we continue to deny schools comprehensive sex education, our children will keep having children, our dropout rates will continue to climb, and our need for excesses of social services will keep rising. We will also keep marginalizing those kids who have even fewer resources and less access to education than the general white middle/upper class America. Overall, I see this as a challenge. As Christians in search of becoming loving Christ-like people, we must see the need and work to fill it.
Maggie Gilman is a junior Interdisciplinary major studying Women’s Studies, International Studies, and PJCS