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How Might Educators Address Issues Raised By the Kavanaugh Hearings

Rabbi Mitch Malkus
With many Americans watching how the United States Senate proceeds with Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation, I have been thinking about the issues the recent sexual assault allegations raise for educators. The issues relate to both the many high profile cases of sexual assault and harassment that we have seen over the past year and to the culture teenagers grow up with in this country.

Educators have long considered how to best address drugs, alcohol, and sex with our adolescent students so that they make appropriate and educated decisions. Yet, the Kavanaugh hearings have highlighted some deeper cultural views of teenage behavior. I believe that assault or alcohol abuse should never be considered part of child's play, boys being boys, or acceptable behavior within teen circles.

Jewish education has a powerful role to play in partnering with parents to address these cultural issues within our schools, programs, and communities. The approach that Jewish educators can take goes far beyond the important areas of sex education, drug and alcohol awareness, discussions of what constitutes consent, and the culture of male privilege. The advantage we have is our ability to ground these discussions in a fundamental worldview that sees people as created in God's image, b'zelem Elohim. While normally we think of being created in God's image as meaning we try to emulate God's qualities like compassion and kindness, Judaism also expects that viewing each person as created in God's image as an exhortation of how we relate to other people and treat our bodies.

When we teach and confront students with the Jewish value concept that their bodies are sacred, that each person is endowed with uniqueness and that relationships between people should be viewed as holy, we can present a perspective that pushes back against the prevailing cultural norms. Jewish educators can and should do better in teaching our teens around these issues. We need to re-engage in conversations and planning around how our curricula and programs confront the current cultural assumptions that teens are socialized into. At the same time, our communities start with an advantage that this discussion is taking place with value concepts and framing language that is counter-cultural. Together, Jewish educators and parents can continue to create the conditions for positive teen cultures.

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