In 2004, NPR reported a poll, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, as finding that "the debate over whether to have sex education in American schools is over." The poll found that only 7 percent of parents believed sex ed should not be taught in school and that "parents are generally content with whatever sex education is offered."
But today, seven years later, it appears the debate does continue.
In August, the New York Times reported that for the first time in two decades, New York City public school students would be required to take a semester sex ed in either the 6th or 7th grade and a second class in the 9th or 10th grade.
The New York Post recently got their hands on one of the recommended sex education workbooks that will be used in the classroom next year stating that assignments include: finding stores that sell condoms and how much they cost; researching where how to get to a clinic that provides birth control and tests for STDs; and "risk" cards that allow the children to learn the relative safety of varying degrees of sexual activity.
The Post goes on to report that even though the curriculum includes assignments such as these and refers students to a Columbia University website called "Go Ask Alice" -- which details sexual positions, types of sex that don't include intercourse and more -- the Department of Education maintains it is promoting abstinence first.
The Times and the Post both report that parents have the "right" to opt their children out of lessons about contraception methods. An op-ed in The New York Times last week calls this opt-out "very limited" in terms of parental control. The op-ed contributors Robert P. George and Melissa Morchella state that it is undeniable the curriculum is "sexualizing children" a younger and younger ages and that mandates such as this "violate parents' rights":
But no one can plausibly claim that teaching middle-schoolers about mutual masturbation is “neutral” between competing views of morality; the idea of “value free” sex education was exploded as a myth long ago. The effect of such lessons is as much to promote a certain sexual ideology among the young as it is to protect their health.
But beyond rival moral visions, the new policy raises a deeper issue: Should the government force parents — at least those not rich enough to afford private schooling — to send their children to classes that may contradict their moral and religious values on matters of intimacy and personal conduct?
Unless a broader parental opt out is added, New York City’s new policies will continue to usurp parents’ just (and constitutionally recognized) authority. Turning a classroom into a mandatory catechism lesson for a contested ideology is a serious violation of parental rights, and citizens of every ideological hue should stand up and oppose it.
In its August article, the New York Times reported principals bracing themselves for parents' discontent over the classes:
“We’re going to have to be the bridge between the chancellor’s requirements and the community,” said Casimiro Cibelli, principal of Middle School 142 in the Baychester section of the Bronx, where many of the students come from immigrant, religious families with traditional views on sex. “Hopefully, we’ll allay their concerns because of their trust in us.”
Watch this local news report that includes parents voicing concern, but also a middle school-aged boy stating "it's important to learn about these things":
Earlier this month, The Blaze reported similar controversial curriculum being proposed in Canada, much to parents' dismay. Many states have adopted mandates for at least HIV/AIDS education; New York began including this in health class curriculum in 1987. The Times reports that a sex education mandate was passed by the city in the 1980s but was defeated by opposition.
A report updated this month by the National Conference of State Legislatures finds that 21 states and the District of Columbia require schools to teach sex ed, which includes HIV education, and 17 of these states require information to be "medically accurate" and/or age appropriate. In terms of parental rights, 35 states allow parental involvement in the classes; 37 states and the District of Columbia have parental opt-out; and three states require parental consent.
In terms of sources of sex education from the teenager's perspective, Guttmacher Institute reported early this year that of the ages 15-19, 93 percent had received education on STDs, 89 percent on HIV and 84 percent on abstinence. The majority (87 percent) of public and private high schools taught abstinence as the best way to avoid pregnancy and diseases but 66 percent of high schools also taught about condom use and 39 percent taught students how to use them.