A Healthy Dose of Criticism

The gap between wishes and reality in the 1100 hallway

Zachary Braaten, Staff Reporter

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As the teacher for one of Shorewood High School’s last avenues to instill some sense of civility in us before sending us out its doors to the “Real World,” Dona Eddy knows her job holds importance. Her main “focus,” as she shepherds literally dozens of freshmen through her class, is “prevention, and to give them enough info to make good choices, in terms of lifestyle… diseases, [which] affects so many people,”
She does this through a variety of activities — speakers, group activities to complement both Shorewood’s curriculum and the state-mandated HIV/AIDS and hands-only CPR instruction.
Dr. Christie Fleetwood, a naturopath, is one of the speakers regularly found in health classrooms. Eddy describes her presentation as centered around “wellness… a lot on nutrition and making smart choices.” Fleetwood presents a 10-year-old McDonald’s hamburger and proclaims, “it’s not real food!”, then continues on to extol the healthy, transformative virtues of organics and non-GMO food. This information could be helpful, but not to the 25.3 percent of Shorewood students who qualify for free and reduced lunches — organic food costs an average of 47 percent more than conventionally grown food. Moreover, there is a distinct lack of scientific evidence to back up her claims that GMOs cause harm to the body. While a McDonald’s hamburger may not have the best nutritional value, blindly railing against it as unequivocally harmful is irresponsible. Like it or not, nutrition is not the only factor in determining a person’s diet — cost, convenience, and the like often carry more weight.
In the Shorewood health curriculum, the longest time is spent on “Human Sexuality and Community Resources,” which we get from King County’s “Family Life and Sexual Health” (FLASH) lesson plans. However, not all the content students want to see gets covered. Cooper Flaherty, a sophomore who took Shorewood health last year, said, “the conversations about sex and the material in the textbook were both very heteronormative… I think queer sexuality and sexual health should be talked about a lot more, because it’s not really touched on in the textbook. Queer and transgender people need to know how to take care of themselves and keep themselves healthy and safe, and they’re not being taught that in health.”
Still though, the FLASH curriculum is limiting in the topics it does cover. Senior Loren Stephens actually wrote to the creators in King County about the way an activity perpetuated gender norms. Recalling her feelings towards the activity, she said, “what it was really doing was saying that there’s no reason to break out of these stereotypes and norms, there’s no problem with [your ability] to live healthy, functional lives if you stay within them, and that’s not a great message to send, to freshmen especially.” When the county responded to her, they acknowledged that “yeah, we’ve gotten a couple emails to the same effect, we’re working on revising it,” but as far as she knows, the e-mails didn’t result in any change.
Another common issue students have with the FLASH curriculum is its focus on abstinence, which Washington State requires schools to “stress.” Says Jasmine Ritter, senior and officer for SHAPE, “It seems like a very old fashioned thing that we need to put abstinence as the main thing… Teens will have sex. Teens have always had sex. It’s much more appropriate if we teach them to [have safe sex]”. She also questions the efficacy of the program, since “a lot of people don’t know the definition of abstinence. You can see that in the beginning of SHAPE, [when] we go ‘it’s your own definition’ then people go ‘what the heck is abstinence?’ So, even if that’s the one thing they’re telling students to do, [students] don’t exactly know what that is or how it fits into real life.”
When it comes to sex education and HIV education, Shorewood’s health classes could be significantly worse. Washington is among the eight states that require it to be “culturally appropriate and unbiased”, and one of the 13 that mandates it be medically accurate. Meanwhile, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah dictate a “negative” portrayal of sexual orientations other than straight. Though it isn’t perfect, we still have a system where we get a lot of good content. However, that isn’t an excuse for our health education to be subpar, and it’s clear some topics have fallen through the cracks. Health is one of the only classes with a near universal experience for Shorewood students — most students take the exact same class their freshman year, and others still take the fairly standardized relationships class. With the potential to reach such a range of students, we should take greater advantage of it.

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A Healthy Dose of Criticism