Artwork by Eva Herscowitz.
Students’ names have been changed to protect privacy.
In addition to learning multiplication and cursive, Liz Kleinrock’s third grade students at the Citizens of The World Charter School in Los Angeles, California, are learning about a more abstract concept: consent.
Kleinrock’s class defines consent as “saying yes to allowing someone to do something.” In a series of lessons, Kleinrock and her students establish situations when consent is necessary and review examples of what consent does and doesn’t sound like.
“If we’re lining up outside and somebody is putting their hands on you—whether that’s hugging, or pushing or grabbing something that belongs to you—learning how to say really firmly ‘stop’ or ‘I don’t like that,’ and for you to feel empowered and confident, is crucial,” she said.
Consent isn’t a new concept. But with the current national spotlight on sexual misconduct, highlighted by the 2017 #MeToo movement and Christine Blasey Ford’s recent sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, there’s an increased national push for consent education.
But for our generation, when we were as young as Kleinrock’s third graders—the time in our lives when we were beginning to formulate our perceptions of the world and ourselves—nobody thought to teach us these lessons.
Today’s teenagers are caught between two worldviews: the one we as a country are striving for, where consent is common, and the one we live with, where the voices of sexual assault victims are silenced and “consent” isn’t mentioned in any common core curricula.
I hope that our understanding of consent evolves alongside the former movement: that we learn how to say “no” to people and respect others’ boundaries. But this important lesson isn’t something we can learn through a few lessons in health class. Until society recognizes the complexity of consent, we can’t begin to change the toxic behavior surrounding it.