Our Owl time together, at the retreat particularly, has provided an opportunity for us to strengthen relationships, youth with youth, teacher with teacher, and teacher with youth. I believe strongly that the integration of discussions of the values we hold as individuals and as a church, with the topics at hand (sexuality, relationships, sexual orientation) is key to our success.
For one thing, many of the topics we discuss can be embarrassing and don’t generate the liveliest discussions on their own. But, I have found that when discussions turn to issues of personal values, identity, and social justice the youth are keen to express their opinions, learn more, and refine their ideas.
More importantly, we are trying to prepare our youth to make important decisions in their relationships with friends, family, future romantic partners and society. These decisions will be difficult, and they will bring not only the valuable information we hope to provide in OWL, but also their values and feelings to those decisions and so, we need to include all of those elements into our OWL discussions. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn with the youth, and I am looking forward to the rest of our time together.
When people learn that I teach Sexuality Education at my church, the usual response is “What’s the catch?!” It seems unlikely that a church would teach comprehensive, progressive sexuality education to middle school kids. But this is ORUCC! We know that God has given us the gift of sexuality, and that sexuality is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. We know that teaching kids about gender identity, sexual orientation, healthy relationships, and responsible sexual behavior can empower them and help them make good decisions now and in the future. Teaching OWL means a lot to me–I love getting know these kids better, I think the curriculum is fantastic, and the teaching team is fantastic. We have a lot of fun on Sunday mornings, and we learn from and teach each other each week. But mostly, we learn that ORUCC is truly a place where everyone belongs, where every part of our being is sacred and loved by God.
In the textbook Adolescence, Lawrence Steinberg writes: “Suppose that early in your childhood your parents had treated cooking food as though it had special, mysterious significance. Suppose that you had never been permitted to see anyone actually cooking food, that you had been prohibited from seeing movies in which people cooked food, and that you had been excluded from any discussions of cooking. Nevertheless, imagine that you knew that something went on in the kitchen and that there was some special activity that adults did there which you would be permitted, even expected, to do when you grew up. Perhaps you even overheard other kids at school talking about cooking, but you still weren’t sure just what the activity was or what one was supposed to do (or not do). Imagine how confused and ambivalent and anxious you would feel.”
His point is that when we are secretive about sex when children are young and filled with anxiety when they are adolescents, we make sexuality into a problem. The OWL curriculum strives to reverse this trend, normalizing frank discussion not only about sexuality, but all the related facets of our lives. While I can still more easily teach about healthy cooking, conversation in OWL comes more naturally to me now that it did when I started in 2008.
I have also had the opportunity to share the philosophy of the OWL curriculum with college students in a Wellness in Education class, and it is very eye-opening for them. None of the future teachers have had the type of sexuality education the youth experience with OWL, and it’s a struggle for them to normalize topics they find unbearably awkward. I hope the day will come when healthy sexuality isn’t such a taboo subject, and I am grateful for the role ORUCC is playing in making this future more possible.