British schools are planning classes to teach kids ages five to fifteen about preventing domestic violence — but some parents' groups aren't happy.
The classes were inspired by research that shows one in four teenage girls are hurt by a partner, and a third of girls in relationships are victims of unwanted sexual activity. Despite these statistics, only half of girls receive any sort of education about domestic violence. To remedy this, beginning in 2011 schools will teach students about healthy relationships and the unacceptability of abuse. An unnamed contributor to the plan says that the classes would be separate from sex education:
It's nothing to do with teaching them how to put a condom on. It's about teaching boys not to be violent and girls that being a sex object isn't the only way to be validated.
Schools minister Vernon Coaker says the classes will be "age appropriate." Rather than being taught about romantic relationships, younger children might learn not to bully or call names. Christine Barter, a researcher in the area of teen violence, says what's especially scary is that teenage girls keep this violence to themselves. Classes starting at a young age might encourage them to seek help when they need it — and might teach them that violence is unacceptable and should be reported. But not all parents are behind the measure.
Margaret Morrissey, of the group Parents Outloud, says, "This political correctness is turning our children into confused mini-adults from the age of five to nine." Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, concurs:
Youngsters should naturally know not to do these sort of things and must be called to account if they do. But teachers have enough to do in teaching English, maths and science to a reasonable level without addressing issues that parents should be dealing with.
Teaching young girls to report abuse and rape — and teaching boys not to commit these acts — is hardly mere "political correctness." But Seaton's criticism echoes an age-old debate about education that goes beyond "English, maths and science" — what should schools teach, and what is the province of parents? In this case, it's unfortunately untrue that "youngsters naturally know" not to abuse each other. And since violence is still so widespread, it doesn't appear that parents "naturally know" how to deal with it either. Parent-child relationships are complicated by a lot of emotions and expectations — parents may feel, for instance, that their son would never hurt a girl, or that their daughter would never stay in an abusive relationship. Teachers may be able to take a more dispassionate approach, especially since they will undergo special training before teaching the new classes. Ideally, all parents would teach their kids never to commit domestic violence, and to speak out immediately if they suffer it. But teenagers aren't getting this message, and school may be a good place to fix that.