The “Yes, And . . . ” of Consent Education

Consent is all around, not just in headlines and Law & Order: SVU plotlines. My article, “Saying Yes to Consent Education,” makes the argument that teaching about consent conveys a fundamental life skill that has relevance for all ages, and the article shares how some schools are approaching consent education.

If we only relegate discussions of consent to nightmare scenarios, that sends the message – either implicitly or explicitly—that consent is not a generally useful communication skill, that only certain types of people need it, and that by staying safe or being good, you can avoid having to use it.

Some leaders in youth health and wellness education are challenging this false narrative by advocating for consent education to become more skill-based and incorporate real scenarios from students’ own lives.

It makes sense. If we want kids to use something, they have to feel like they own it.

“Kids need to be able to inform the curricula,” says Bianca Laureanao, director of education at Scenarios USA, a nonprofit that uses writing and film to engage young people in issues of social justice, identity, and health. However, she notes, one of the challenges to incorporating more relevant lessons about consent into schools is that many schools are bound to mammoth, state or federally funded, evidence-based curriculum that, in Laureano’s words, “is pretty rigid.”

“You can maybe change the names of the people in the scenarios, but you can’t change anything else,” she says. “So maybe it’s Juanita and Pablo who are going down to the malt shop, but it’s still an unrelatable context for youth.”

This potential conundrum facing consent education got me reflecting on the March issue of Educational Leadership magazine, which is all about making learning personal.

In Larry Ferlazzo’s article, “Student Engagement: The Key to Personalized Learning,” Ferlazzo notes that student engagement hinges on relevance. He writes, “Relevance occurs when students view school work as interesting and useful for improving their present lives or achieving their hopes and dreams.”

Laureano, and others I talked to for my article, noted that young people want to know how to have healthy relationships, have agency, and be good partners or friends. Understanding consent is core to this goal, and surely useful for improving students’ lives and their general pursuit of happiness.

Consent is an important skill and topic, with intrinsic value to students. If we want to see a culture of consent truly take hold, we must embrace consent education and seek and support curriculum and methodologies centered on students’ own experiences.

Laura Varlas is an ASCD project manager in publishing, and a graduate student in the secondary education: English/language arts program at George Washington University.