Saint Pope John Paul II is a hero to countless Catholics across the world. Many admire the young Karol Wojtyla’s courage in the face of a Nazi-occupied Poland, which became training for his tenacity to opposing totalitarian political regimes as pope. Others cherish the undivided attention John Paul gave to each person he encountered. And nearly everybody reveres the profound relationship he had with our Lord.
JPII also made incredible contributions to theology. Chief among his contributions is The Theology of the Body, a series of 129 lectures given through Wednesday audiences in Rome over a five-year period. As Christopher West describes, these lectures are not only “an extended catechesis on marriage and sexual love,” but also a direct response to many false ideas about the human body and human sexuality offered by various philosophers and theologians over the last several hundred years.
The Theology of the Body contemplates the original experience of creation to discover what it means that God creates us “male and female” (Gen. 1:27). For JPII, our masculinity and femininity are fundamental to our existence and consciousness. It is “indispensable for knowing who man is and who he ought to be, and therefore how he should shape his own activity.”
This theological masterpiece brings us in closer contact with God’s design for marriage and human sexuality and, through that, into a deeper understanding of human and divine love.
Why the long introduction about Saint Pope John Paul II? Because the beauty of the human person and human sexuality is under attack in Nebraska.
The Nebraska Department of Education (“NDE”) recently released a first draft of Health Standards. These standards are meant to guide curriculum for all Nebraska schools, including public and non-public schools. The Health Standards contain flawed, ideologically driven content. They contain the very philosophical errors JPII addressed in The Theology of the Body.
Should such standards be adopted by schools, children will be placed in peril, many educators will find their professional judgment and conscience under attack, and the culture will move toward a further normalization of child sexualization.
To provide brief background, the NDE regularly writes standards for a variety of content areas (e.g., math, science, reading). These standards are building blocks for curriculum in schools and form the basis of what is taught in classrooms (e.g., units, lessons, activities). While other content areas have established standards, the NDE’s draft Health Standards are the first ever proposed for health education.
The draft Health Standards contain some quality material. However, there are many problems with content regarding marriage, family, and human sexuality.
To list just some examples, in kindergarten, children will discuss genitalia. In first grade, children will “define gender, gender identity, and gender-role stereotypes.” In third grade, children will discuss sexual orientation and “identify trusted adults whom students can ask questions about gender identity and sexual orientation.” In seventh grade, students will “define vaginal, oral, and anal sex and their relationship to STD/HIV transmission.” In eighth grade, students will discuss ways to prevent pregnancy, pregnancy testing, and “sexual consent and agency.” High school students will discuss sexual consent, contraceptives, “local services that provide contraceptive methods including emergency contraception.”
What is missing is as concerning as what is included. For example, there is no descriptions of the role of the parent as the primary educator of their child, especially on matters of human sexuality. There is no discussion of the scourges of pornography and the objectification of sexuality. The standards also fail to address healthy internet and social media practices.
If you are like me, you are deeply concerned and left wondering: What can I do?
First, the NDE is asking for feedback on these draft standards. Visit www.education.ne.gov where you can view the standards and respond through a survey. Also, contact your elected State School Board Member, which can be found at the NDE’s website.
Second, spread the message to family, friends, parishioners, and others. It is important that more people know about these problematic standards. We hope this prompts a broader discussion about the beauty of God’s design for marriage and human sexuality.
Third, visit www.necatholic.org and sign up for our Catholic Advocacy Network of Nebraska to stay up-to-date on this matter and others.