Thursday, July 23, 2009

“Click” reproductive services back into our healthcare (and education)!

While Rev. Haffner is vacationing this week, Religious Institute staff will be guest blogging. Today's post is by Dr. Kate Ott, Associate Director.

It makes sense that the nation’s leaders consider reproductive healthcare services an optional part of universal coverage. It makes sense because from little on, we learn that the “reproductive system” is not a significant part of our bodies functioning. In fact, we ignore its existence when talking to children for as long as we can when.

In my little East Coast town, our library was recently renovated to include a fabulous new children’s play area complete with reading corners, imaginary play resources, and of course a new kid-friendly computer section. My youngest, age 4, started playing a science game about the body’s systems on the computer. You can call up the breathing (pulmonary system), blood (cardiac system), bones (skeletal system), brains (nervous system), muscles (muscular system), stomach (digestive system), BUT you can’t pull up the reproductive system. In fact, the click-on “universal man” is so amorphously shaped he has less reproductive organs than Ken-Barbie.

As you play the game, you learn the names of the body parts including internal organs. You can double-click the heart to see if it is soft or hard. You can highlight nerves and watch them carry a message to the brain. The digestive system stops short of having click-able links that connect to any “private parts.” My 4 year old wanted to know “where the food went next” and why the body didn’t have a penis. He knows that if he drinks lots of water he will have to go to the bathroom and pee comes out his penis. At 4, he made this connection and wanted to know why that wasn’t part of the game. A natural part of life in his opinion!

I took some time to play the game as well, so I could see if my initial reaction was correct. In fact, there were no reproductive organs and no way to make basic connections between areas such as the penis, vulva, or others. Why keep this information out of the game? Yes, the player might have to choose a boy or girl at the start of the game in order to specify which reproductive organs each has. And the explanations would need to be age-appropriate, just like they were for the nervous system.

Silence through absence of a reproductive system in a computer game (or any books available in the library) for children teaches them a loud and clear message that reproductive health and “that part of our body” is not to be discussed. We have reproductive organs, folks. It isn’t optional! Let’s make them an equal part of our bodies, of what we teach children, and of our healthcare plans.


Cassandra said...

Sure, we have reproductive organs, but why do we keep them covered? Why not just let them all hang out? It isn't that reproductive organs aren't to be discussed. As a parent myself, I would want to discuss this when *I* feel it is appropriate based on my child's awareness. I appreciate the library would respect that I am my child's primary educator and allow me to decide when to discuss sexuality with my child since every child is different.

Anonymous said...

Cassandra, including reproductive organs in a child's game such as the one Kate describes doesn't mean the game teaches about sexuality. But by not including all parts of the body, the game sends a message that some body parts are shameful. As for why we keep them covered, well, that's partly because we are socially conditioned that way (rightly or wrongly). But I would just as soon people keep their bellies and feet covered as well -- not because there is anything "private" about them, I would just rather not see them!

Diggitt said...

Kate, my suggestion is that you go public about it. Write a letter to your local paper. Do you have local bloggers? Tell them about it. Email all your friends -- and the parents of your son's friends. Yes, some of them will be shocked but I'd bet more of them would be as concerned as you are. Who's in charge of the library, I mean really in charge, a library board? Write to its members. Let the Friends of the Library know too.

But first, speak with the children's librarian and/or the reference librarian, whichever you think made the decision to do things as you describe. I can imagine this resulting from a default in the program that was never overridden and I can imagine it resulting from a lower-level librarian making a decision without running it by the library director.

Your community actually has a chain of command at the library. It's useful not to go over people's heads unless you have consulted them and had no joy, then go up the ladder a notch. Your local politicians are not supposed to be involved in censoring the library, but the council (or whatever it is in your community) may be the director's employer and are thus responsible for these decisions.

I'm not a First Amendment junkie, but I don't think "community standards" of obscenity are legal these days. In this century, simple body mechanics shouldn't be an obscenity issue for anyone.

In response to Cassandra. There's a difference between wearing clothes and having the right to learn about your body. Learning about hygiene is a good enough reason for a four-year-old to learn about his penis. If you've been around many animals, you may have noticed they need no instruction from books to know what to do with their penises. A reference book never corrupted anyone.

Reboloke said...

As a pre-k teacher I've had the "joy" of addressing "good touch - bad touch" and what body parts it's not ok to show in class while walking on eggshells trying not to teach anything parents don't want their 4-5 year olds hearing. We have had some kids in the class get very exploratory about their (and each others) bodies. A certain level of curiosity about bodies is appropriate for this age, but the way they express their curiosity seems to directly correlate to their ability to speak about their bodies using actual terms rather than the variety of misleading slang terms for body parts. I agree with those who say it should be the parents job to determine how much their child is ready to know, but parents have to teach what their kids are ready to hear, or it will fall to someone else (which often as not means peers who don't really know what they're talking about). Also, resources need to be available for children and parents to explore together, when the child is ready to learn. By excluding "private parts" from educational materials we aren't helping children or parents, or teachers who are trying to provide appropriate expressions for curiosity about bodies without offending parents.