Ever since I read about last week’s assembly at George Washington High School featuring abstinence-only speaker Pam Stenzel, I’ve been angry.
I’ve been angry that someone with an obvious agenda was not only allowed but also paid to speak at a public high school.
I’ve been angry that the speaker was allowed to misrepresent beliefs as facts.
I’ve been angry that school officials seem oblivious to either of those issues.
But most of all, I’ve been angry that Ms. Stenzel talked AT the students rather than WITH them. I know because, when curiosity got the best of me, I listened to a recording of her presentation.
I wasn’t surprised at her self-righteous attitude. Nor was I surprised at her efforts to make her opinions sound like facts.
I was surprised that she didn’t even pretend to be interested in the young people to whom she was speaking. Instead, she made assumptions about them and belittled them, but she didn’t engage them.
Anyone who is truly interested in improving the lives of others is always interested in listening to what they have to say and trying to understand their perspective.
But Ms. Stenzel didn’t listen or engage. She was so focused on getting across her own agenda that she disregarded the feelings, knowledge and diverse backgrounds of the students to whom she spoke. She never considered that some young people might not want to get married. She never considered that some might be survivors of sexual abuse. And she never considered that some might be gay.
She only considered her own own views and perspective. To be perfectly honest, I understand her opinions. I may not agree with them, but I understand them.
I too am a mom who wants her children to make healthy decisions.
I too am a mom who wants her children to achieve their goals and be self sufficient.
And I too am a mom who doesn’t want to have grandchildren too soon.
But that’s where our similarities end, because Ms. Stenzel obviously doesn’t buy into my philosophy about raising children: we need to give children accurate information and the tools to make informed and healthy decisions. And we need to do so with respect and compassion. It’s just not as easy as just telling them what to do.
About a year ago, I was very irritated with son and asked him, “what is my job as your mother?”
He began running through a long list of expectations, “To feed me, to make sure I have a place to sleep, to make sure I have clothes…”
I interrupted him. “No, I said. “Those are my responsibilities. My job as a mom is to ensure you grow into an adult who takes care of himself. That’s it.”
That sounds simple, but it’s not. It requires putting my ego aside. It requires constant self examination about my beliefs and values. It requires letting go and learning to trust. It requires listening and understanding and empathy, especially when my children stumble and fall.
And most of all, it requires faith that my children will understand different points of views and learn to develop their own. Only then will they be able to make their own decisions instead of simply following directions, which is the true sign of being a responsible adult.
Ms. Stenzel claims to be a woman of faith, but she seems to have forgotten that basic fact of life.