A version of this article was originally published in The Wingspan, the student newspaper of Liberty High School in Frisco, TX.
Last year, the Texas Board of Education rejected a proposal to add sexual education, contraception, gender identity, and self-harm to instructional material for public high schools, in yet another political debate centered around education. Now, discussions around mental health education continue to rage on, with Texas Republicans continuing to reject social-emotional learning and mental health curricula in schools.
In recent years, Texas classrooms have become a political battleground, with bills about Critical Race Theory (CRT) and sexual education, as well as debates about the rights of transgender students and the treatment of students of color.
It is not particularly surprising that the Texas Board of Education has essentially condemned sex education and gender studies. Maybe disappointing to some, but not shocking. Texas Republicans have been fighting this fight for decades now and the discussion around sex-ed curriculum has been partisan for a very long time.
However, the refusal to teach students about self-harm and mental health is surprising. More than that, it is profoundly disturbing and must be reevaluated. Mental illness does not discriminate. Mental health is not a partisan issue, nor should it be treated as such.
As we head into 2023, it’s time for everyone on both sides of the aisle to come together and address the fact that mental health isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a human issue.
According to data from a study conducted by Kids Count, more than half a million children in Texas between three and 17 years old reported having anxiety or depression in 2020. These numbers are staggering, and prove how widespread this issue is.
Every student, regardless of their parent’s ideological beliefs will, at one point or another, have an experience with mental illness, whether it’s their own, or a peer’s, or a family member’s.
Even if they don’t experience it firsthand, they will experience it in media and the people around them. They will see TV shows, TikToks, and movies exposing them to self-harm or mental illness. It won’t happen in a controlled environment: It will be unregulated and uncensored exposure that could potentially leave lasting effects.
How will stigmatizing mental illness help students? How will this prepare them for dealing with a mental health crisis? In what way is this at all beneficial for them?
Education should never be politicized, and yet, it constantly is. It’s an easy point to hit for politicians from both sides of the aisle: One simple, “Do we really want our children to learn [insert controversial topic here],” and bam! Voters are listening.
But this is what happens when politicians let controversy cloud the curriculum: Students are left in the dark on monumental matters. The future of the Texas education system is the future of the next electorate, and it is much more than a simple talking point.
Choosing not to include mental health and self-harm awareness in school curricula is a massive failure of the Texas Board of Education. It’s time to separate political agendas from discussions about education and reaffirm the notion that students’ needs come first and foremost, before party affiliation or bias.