Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Need for Sex Education in America's Schools

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

New York City recently mandated the teaching of sex education in its city schools.  Sadly though, the state of New York, in the second decade of the 21st century, still has no such educational requirement.

There has always been a lot of controversy surrounding the idea of using public schools to educate children about sex.   Years ago when I was living in rural south-central Missouri and working as a high school principal, a local doctor and his office nurse/wife, both of the fundamentalist religious persuasion, would make a lot of noise on the topic in the community, and the wife would publish letters in the local press stating her belief that teaching young people about sex caused young people to have sex.  I have never seen any legitimate research that would back up that claim.

Another concern often expressed on this topic is that sex education is a matter that should be addressed within the family.  A major problem with that approach is that many families are too busy, or too ill-informed, or too reticent to approach the subject in a forthright manner.    Also, not every family offers a safe environment for children, and the messages that youngsters in those families get regarding sex may be misleading, unhealthy, or dangerous.   Sexual abuse of children within families occurs in every state in the nation – and it is often in the safe environment of schools where these heinous crimes are first disclosed - and sometimes as a result of information received in sex education classes.

There was an article at today entitled “The Sex Ed Hall of Shame.”  It was written by Tracy Clark-Flory.    It that piece, the author noted that 24 states have not mandated any sex education in their public schools.   She listed eight of the twenty-four as the “worst of the worst”   In those “worst” states, sex education is not part of the school curriculum, and if districts decide to teach it anyway, states often impose guidelines on what the curriculum must or must not contain.  Some emphasize abstinence and the importance of keeping sex within marriage, both worthy goals but not overly realistic in this modern age, and some do not require that classes provide medically accurate information.  In other words, when a local district decides to address the issue of sex education, even when there is no state requirement to do so, the state often mandates that it be taught in such as way as to be misleading or to water down its intended impact.

What follows is a list of the worst of the worst states as identified by Ms. Clark-Flory, along with some unintended outcomes of their policies regarding the lack of a mandate for sex education in the public schools.  The states are listed alphabetically, and he geographical emphasis is decidedly southern.

  • Alabama has some of the highest STD rates in the nation particularly with regard to chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.   The author also notes that Alabama has the 15th highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, and the state bans teaching anything positive regarding homosexuality.
  • Arkansas ranks at 5th highest in the nation in the rate of chlamydia among its citizens, 7th in gonorrhea, and 10th in syphilis.  Arkansas has the 8th highest teen pregnancy rate in the United States.
  • Florida has the highest rate of HIV infection of any state in the nation, and it is 12th in teen pregnancies.
  • Indiana teens, according to a national study, are among the least likely to report that they used a condom the last time they had sex.
  • Louisiana has the highest rate of syphilis among young people in America, and it is in the top ten for chlamydia and gonorrhea.    Louisiana ranks 11th nationally in teen HIV.
  • Missouri has higher than average rates of STDs  and lower than average rates of condom usage among sexually active high school students when compared to the rest of the nation.
  • Texas ranks 5th in teen pregnancies nationwide, 3rd in young people with AIDS, and 4th in teens with syphilis.  Ninety-six percent of Texas school districts teach abstinence only.
  • Virginia has the 8th highest syphilis rate among young people in the country.

There is a flip side to this tide of enforced ignorance:  twenty states and the District of Columbia do mandate some form of sex education in the public schools, but the many individual restrictions and mandates that states place on those programs have a substantial impact on their level of success.  Only nineteen states have a requirement for mentioning contraceptives, leading Ms. Clark-Flores to ponder rather cynically why America has such high teen pregnancy rates.

Why indeed.

Americans can approach this issue in one of two ways.  We can either tell our children not to have sex before marriage and deny them the knowledge and means to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancies – and hope for the best, or we can educate our children about sex in a comprehensive manner.  Sex education should include a moral component as well as honest and complete information about biology, contraception, and disease.  Sex education should be predicated on the idea that even the very best of young people raised in the best of circumstances occasionally make bad decisions – and they should not have to suffer the consequences of those bad decisions for the rest of their lives.


Don said...

In the pre-electronic era during which I was schooled, a lovely 15-year-old girl became pregnant in her sophomore year at Amherst Regional High School in western Massachusetts. She was a great student and I still remember getting through one particular biology lab only because of her help.
But that was the way she was -- always willing to give.
But when she gave in a way that the school deemed inappropriate, it expelled her.
At the class reunion 20 years later, she did't show up --- even though she still lived in the area. And when I asked what had become of her, I was told "she frittered her life away." And what that meant was that she had three more kids, a job at the local grocery store, a husband who abused her and a life that dealt her cards that no one should ever be required to play.
My guess is that millions of such stories have been relived and retold over the decades between then and now.
You're right, Rock. No one should ever have to suffer such consequences for the rest of their lives.

Not giving my name this time said...

Once a girl was marked with a reputation, she could never recover. That was sad. Meanwhile, the boys got off scott free, most of the time. Those who were forced into early marriages didn't fare well, either.
I don't think we have that same thing going on today. It is different. Our kids and grandkids are more savvy. But sex education should be taught - not so much about the act, but the consequences of having children too young. In this country we need to start valuing our young people of all classes more, and stop expecting them to marry up young or have lots of kids. I also have a problem with people who work the system. I have a relative (no names) who has a "wife" he isn't married to, so she can get free medical care for their two children and free obstetrical care during her pregnancies. Also, free dental, etc. I'm not so sure this is the best way to do this.