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SUMMARY: SIECUS REVIEW OF HERITAGE KEEPERS

Heritage Keepers contains very little information about the majority of topics suggested by SIECUS' Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education; K-12, such as puberty, anatomy, and sexual behavior. Even topics that are frequently discussed in detail in other abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, such as condoms and STDs, receive very little mention in this curriculum. Instead it devotes most of its lessons to the importance of marriage and abstinence before marriage. In these lessons, Heritage Keepers relies on messages of fear and shame and promotes biased views of gender, marriage, and pregnancy options.

Relying on Negative Messages

Messages of Fear and Shame—Trying to scare students and instill guilt

  • “But did you know that sexual activity outside of the commitment of marriage could put YOUR FUTURE at risk?” (Heritage Keepers, Teacher Manual, unnumbered page)
  • “Circle the consequences that you DO NOT want in your life”: “Sexually Transmitted Viruses, Sexually Transmitted Bacteria, Cervical Cancer, AIDS, Legal and financial responsibility for a child until he or she is at least 18, Raising a child alone, Emotional hurt and regret, Increased chance of abuse from a partner.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 35)
  • “Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous!” (Heritage Keeper, Student Manual, p. 22)

This focus on consequences is clearly designed to scare students rather than educate them. It is important to remember that 46% of all high school students and 63% of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse[1]; it is never appropriate for a curriculum to suggest that these teens are less worthy of love, trust, and respect than their abstinent peers.

Promoting Biases

The Marriage Mandate—Demanding one lifestyle

  • “You could have a familial union with your parents, an emotional union with your best friend, a social union with a teammate, and an intellectual union with a chess partner. But in marriage you share all of these unions, and are bound to each other and the children you have together by a lifetime commitment.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 29)
  • “Of all sexually active people, married people with only one life-time partner are most likely to report they are ‘extremely' or ‘very' satisfied with the amount of physical and emotional pleasure they experience in their sex lives.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 25)
  • “When couples live together outside of marriage, the relationships are ‘weaker, more violent, less [equal], and more likely to lead to divorce'” and “People who live together before marriage experience ‘significantly more difficulty in their marriage with adultery, alcohol, drugs and independence [not wanting to depend on each other for anything] than those who do not live together.'” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 26)

This lesson seems based on the assumption that all students aspire to marriage, and in so doing discounts gay and lesbian individuals who are unable to marry, as well as the very real possibility that some students simply do not wish to marry. Although decisions about whether to move in with a partner are rarely relevant to high school students, the curriculum spends a great deal of time explaining why premarital cohabitation is wrong. It is not the place of an educational program to mandate relationship structures for young people.

Divorce and Family Structure—Ignoring non-traditional families

  • “What whole is created in the marriage union?” “The answer: Through marriage a new family is created, making one ‘whole' (complete) family.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 27)
  • “[The familial unit involves] living together as a new family unit. In a familial union, you live in one household, and typically share the same name. Children born to the two of you will be part of your new family.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 28)

Although single-parenthood is mentioned as a consequence of premarital pregnancy and divorce is mentioned as a consequence of cohabitation, families in which the parents are never married or divorced are never mentioned. This discussion may be designed to make young people think of their future relationships, it would not be surprising if many students thought instead of their parents. It is unreasonable to put the burden of family structure on students who, as children, have no control over their current family situation. Suggesting that these young people will face a lifetime of difficulty will only serve to distress and alienate many students.

Gender—Fostering myths and stereotypes

  • ¨Men, the curriculum says, are strong, respectful, and courageous. And, “a man protects.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 52) In contrast, a “real woman” knows herself, is confident, sends a clear message, and is caring. (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 55)
  • “Males and females are aroused at different levels of intimacy. Males are more sight orientated whereas females are more touch orientated. This is why girls need to be careful with what they wear, because males are looking! The girl might be thinking fashion, while the boy is thinking sex. For this reason, girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn't invite lustful thoughts.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 46)

Such statements reinforce societal double standards in which young women do not desire sex and young men cannot control their sexual behavior. By reiterating these ideas, the curriculum places all of the responsibility for refusing sexual activity on the shoulders of young women. Heritage Keepers would better serve students by reminding them that both men and women are sexual beings and are equally responsible for making decisions regarding sexual activity and relationships.

Pregnancy OptionsRelying on biased language

  • “You are going to watch a video that explains, and actually shows you, how a new life develops after the sperm fertilized the egg.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 17)
  • “When you have sexual intercourse with someone there is a good chance that you could create an entirely new person—a living human being; a son or daughter.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 17)
  • “How did the Preview of a Birth video make you feel about the wonder of a new human life forming?” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 18)

 While raising a child alone and being forced to pay child support are discussed as outcomes of premarital sex, neither abortion nor adoption is ever directly mentioned. The curriculum does, however, consistently use language that conveys an anti-choice message. Rather than relying on biased language and innuendo, Heritage Keepers would better serve students by providing an honest discussion of all options available to a young woman facing an unintended pregnancy.

Sexual Orientation—Refusing to accept diversity

  • “After talking about what the opposite sex thinks is important, discuss what most surprised you about what they say they want in a boyfriend or girlfriend.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 42)
  • “The strong attraction between men and women is part of what makes marriage so wonderful.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 48)

By consistently ignoring the existence of LGBT individuals, Heritage Keepers is reinforcing the cultural invisibility and bias that these students already face in many schools and communities. Moreover, the curriculum's focus on marriage as the only appropriate context for sexual behavior, essentially tells these students—who cannot legally marry in this country —that they can never have a sexual relationship.

 

[1]Danice K. Eaton, et. al., “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance— United States, 2005,” Surveillance Summaries, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 55, no. SS-5 (9 June 2006): 1-108, accessed 8 June 2006, < http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm >.