Education Opinion

Sex Ed Remains Controversial

By Walt Gardner — November 17, 2014 1 min read

I’ve always been confused by the double standard regarding the treatment of sex and violence in this country. For general audiences, the former is sanitized or expurgated, while the latter is graphic or exploitative. So it should come as no surprise that this helps explain why public schools still can’t teach sex properly (“Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed,” Time, Nov. 12).

Practically every school district at one time or another has been faced with complaints from parents or other groups about sex-ed classes. The latest example involves Fremont, California, where in the spring of this year, Your Health Today, which was published by McGraw-Hill and adopted by the school board, triggered a backlash involving a petition with more than 2,500 signatures. This took place in a progressive city.

The outraged parties argued that the book contained material inappropriate for 13- and 14-year olds (e.g. sex games, involving bondage and discipline). I’m not arguing that young people should be told about such things. But I wonder why the same adults are not in high dudgeon about violence that young people are routinely exposed to.

Let’s not forget that young people today mature far earlier than previous generations, and are constantly inundated with sexual images. That’s why Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College, believes that high school has outlived its usefulness. We persist in the fiction that teens are innocent children. Once again, I’m not arguing for forced immersion into subjects. Instead, I’m urging public schools to face reality.

I think the debate ultimately comes down to how, when, and what to tell young people about sex. Sex ed still doesn’t exist in some parts of the country, and when it does it consists of little more than facts about basic plumbing. For example, Oklahoma and Alabama don’t require any sex ed, even though they have the highest teen pregnancy rate. Reformers are quick to talk about accountability in public schools. Doesn’t accountability also apply to sex?

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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