Liz Kleinrock is a third-grade teacher at Citizens of the World Charter School Silver Lake in Los Angeles. Last week, she posted an image on her Teach and Transform Instagram and Facebook pages of a chart she’d shared with her students. It sums up many important facets of consent, including what “consent” actually means, what it sounds like and when we need it.
In the post, Kleinrock explained that her lesson was inspired by the media coverage of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by three women. One of them, psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
“I think whenever I tend to look at things spiraling in society, particularly political events that are going on, I like to think about what kind of foundational skills should have been in place earlier to prevent these things from happening,” Kleinrock told HuffPost.
The educator also had her students do a writing activity about consent and participate in a role-playing scenario in which they asked her if they could give her a hug. The idea was to give them real-world examples of what consent does ― and doesn’t ― look like.
“I’m saying the word ‘yes,’ but my tone and my body language are so clearly uncomfortable so I ask, ‘Can you read my body? Can you read my face? How do you think I’m actually feeling?’” she said. “Or I’m laughing and saying, ‘No, not right now.’ I look happy and positive, but the words coming out of my mouth are still no. It’s the tone and delivery.”
Kleinrock pointed out that she didn’t even consider mentioning sex while preparing to teach her third-graders about consent.
“People seem to have a really hard time with this because of the connection between consent and sex, but it never crossed my mind to talk about sex with my class,” she said. “My students are 8 and 9 years old. It’s really about respecting space and physical boundaries and interacting with each other.”
She also noted that she plans on expanding her consent lesson to clarify the idea of “secrets” on her chart and to remind her students to come forward if they learn information about another person being sexually abused or otherwise harmed.
In addition to teaching, Kleinrock, who has a background in social-emotional learning and social justice education, serves as her school’s diversity coordinator. She was one of the winners of the 2018 Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Teaching Tolerance project.
Besides the issue of consent, Kleinrock has also had discussions with her students about race, discrimination, stereotypes, privilege, the Holocaust and slavery.
She said, “I’m going to say this for the rest of my life: When there are persistent issues in a society, you can’t hope to fix them unless you actually talk about what they are.”
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