To suggest that one should simply “Let educators educate” is to deny the interconnectedness of society. It implies that educators exist in a vacuum and are free from social determinants on behavior, pedagogy or biases.
There are ample precedents of legislators and educators working together to protect the welfare of citizens. Without such past work, some educators might still be encouraged to teach topics such as the Three-Fifths Compromise as valid and necessary. This is not to suggest that government should be overly involved in education, but the duty of a government is to serve the public and to protect those who have historically been marginalized. The psychological and physical impact of non-consensual sexual activities can last a lifetime; there should be very little partisan ideology associated with wanting to prevent harm of this manner.
It is true that ideological mandates from government are prone to the fickle and sea-sawing nature of politics. One agenda is quickly discarded for another ideological set of priorities when the tides of politics change. However, it is not ideology when it comes to protecting children, adolescents and college students. It is not ideology to state that according to empirical data, 20 percent of women in the U.S. report being sexual assault survivors (New York Times, 2011). Furthermore, there appears to be something amiss societally and systematically when 1 out of 4 men admit to having caused non-consensual sexual harm (Smithsonian, 2013). Government has a moral imperative to address very real social issues that impact nearly every citizen when we consider both sides of the trauma cycle.
As it currently stands, under statute 189:10, the State of New Hampshire does and can dictate what topics are taught in schools. From health and physical education to sexual well-being topics, the precedent for preventing harm and promoting well-being through education is clearly established.
It is important that we also listen to youth. This legislative proposal is endorsed by the N.H. Youth Movement and End Sexual Violence on Campus-New Hampshire, two groups who clearly represent populations who are deeply impacted by the lack of education related to consent. Government can, and should, in collaboration with educators and other professionals, advance an agenda that seeks to protect children, youth and all adults from non-consensual sexual activities.
Let educators educate, but let the law protect and advance the well-being of constituents, especially our youngest Granite Staters.
AMANDA ELIZABETH TOLL
(This writer, a Democrat, represents Keene in the N.H. House. Her letter is in response to The Sentinel’s editorial of Jan. 7, “Consent decree.”)