Sex Education in the Schools: It Should Be Offered But Not Required

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Not too many years ago, there was no such thing as sex education in America's public schools. Today, every state includes teaching about sexuality somewhere in its recommended curriculum. Several states require students to take the course; others are being urged to do so.

But sex education isn't always called sex education. Just as we boys used to sneak girlie magazines into high school back in the thirties and forties and fifties, school authorities now sneak sex education into their course offerings, disguised under some bland title so not to arouse the ire of those who feel that young people should learn about sex from traditional sources: the walls of the boys' rest room, the conversation outside Mr. Dunkel's candy store on Saturday night, and the rather innocent (by today's standards) girlie magazines.

Does anyone call sex education what it is? The District of Columbia and six states did, at last reading. Elsewhere, a bit of digging will unearth it under such soothing labels as Health Education, Home Economics, Family Life, Survival Education, Personal Living, Personal Growth, Career Education, Parenthood Education (that one comes close to spilling the beans), Biology, Human Development, Personal Development, and (here's a nifty one) Family Consumer Education.

Why the deception?

The answer is that in some school districts sex education has been folded quietly into courses, such as health education, that are mandated for all. That's the trick. Many a mom and dad have suffered through an early-September "Parents' Orientation" at which not one word is spoken about sex education, only to find later in the year that innocent little Filbert knows a heck of a lot more about procreation than they thought he did.

Well, should the states require that every child take a course about sex? It is a legitimate question. If there are sound reasons for conducting sex education, as I believe there are, isn't it logical to insist that every youngster study the subject?

Those who say "yes" to mandated sex education argue well. They hold that a proper understanding of the place of sex in our lives is necessary to our happiness and well-being and is, accordingly, good for society. They believe that knowledge of the physiology of sex is needed to eradicate V.D. and reduce the incidence of unwanted teen-age pregnancies.

To the counterargument that sexuality is an extremely complicated and personal subject best left to discussion between parents and children, the pro-mandate people reply that it doesn't work that way in practice. After all, parents seldom tell their youngsters about sex.

On this point, they may be right. How long has it been since you gave (or heard) the Birds and Bees lecture?

Oh, yes, parents freely acknowledge their duty to tell their children about sex. A recent Newsday survey asked parents of Long Island children aged 13 to 19 the question: "Do you think it is the responsibility of parents to educate their children about sex?" Ninety-two percent said "yes," seven percent said "no," and one percent didn't know. The survey team did not press on to ask the 92 percent what they actually do to help their children learn about sex. (Of course, such surveys cannot handle lengthy, multifaceted replies--it is a fault of many such "educational polls.")

Most parents don't discuss sex with their youngsters of any age. Sex never was a subject that came easily to dinner-table conversation, and the generation gap of the 1960's and the 1970's made parent-child communication that much tougher.

Some parents still try to compile and impose one-shot lists of "don'ts," which may work but which hardly qualify as sex education. A few encourage their youngsters to read suitable literature about sex in the context of moral, natural family living, but I am afraid that these are in a minority. The rest figure that their kids will learn ... well, somewhere.

Letting Mom and Pop do it didn't work in my time, and it doesn't work now. Not that it shouldn't, or couldn't--it just doesn't.

The need for sex education is made more urgent by the glorification of sex everywhere we look--in print, at the movies, on TV. There are wishy-washy laws about selling pornography to minors (adapted from wishy-washy U.S. Supreme Court decisions defining pornography on the basis of "community standards").

Young people find the stuff of sex at prices they can pay. Slick-paper magazines with millions of readers titillate their prurient interest not only with pictures and drawings, but with letters to the editor that make Balzac and Boccaccio read like Saint Paul's Epistles.

Edmund Fuller, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says: "There are those, nowadays, including authors of best-selling 'how-to' sex books, not to mention the outright porn merchants, who measure the quality of life and the success of one's femininity or masculinity by orgasm count. We are exhorted to be in continual tumescence from youth to old age. Sex is treated as an end in itself, unless in a distortion by which so-called 'love' is understood only on the sexual plane."

To correct this unreal, amoral, scientifically incomplete, and antisocial view of the role of sex in our lives, a comprehensive sex-education program is needed for our young people.

But should it be mandated upon them, as a required course? Despite what I've said above, I think not.

Parents, not schools, or governments, are fundamentally responsible for the education of their children and those parents who do want to teach their own children about sex, on their own terms, should have the right to do so.

They might feel that the sex-education courses offered in their schools approach the subject in the wrong way. Or, it may be that school sex-education classes discuss aspects of sex that are repugnant to a family's religious beliefs. No child of such a family should be required to participate in mandated courses.

Schools should make their sex-education curricula and supporting materials available to parents who ask to see them. And parents should have the right to elect to have their kids take the school courses, to have their children excused from those classes if matters objectionable to the parents are discussed, or to have their children excused from sex education entirely.

Vol. 02, Issue 19, Page 19

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