Reprinted with permission of the Courier-Journal:
As the most recent National Geographic illustrates —its cover story features a nine-year-old transgender girl— parents are facing challenges and choices that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. That calls for vigilance about what images and messages bombard our children, and clear communication about what we believe, and why.
Take, for example, the Jefferson County Public School sex education curriculum.
For more than a year, an organization called Louisville Sex Ed Now has been advocating changes to that curriculum. LSEN is a coalition of Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Fairness Campaign and others. It maintains that due to vague state standards, there is too much variation among JCPS schools and teachers in how sex ed is taught.
Given Kentucky’s Republican governor and legislature, there is no possibility that the state standards on sex ed will be modified to please organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. So they are taking the fight to the local level. LSEN wants JCPS to enact new standards to specify what must be taught to middle school and high school students. That is, LSEN wants to reduce the discretion that Site Based Decision Making Councils at schools within JCPS have to choose sex ed curricula.
In addition to this reduction of local control, LSEN advocates “comprehensive sexuality education.”
“Comprehensive” appears to be a term of art, or perhaps code, for sex ed that goes way beyond the “birds and the bees” of reproduction. The United Nations defines comprehensive sexuality education as “rights-based and gender-focused.”
Typically, “comprehensive” sex ed gives a passing nod to abstinence and therefore is sometimes misleadingly called “abstinence-plus” sex ed.
The goal of comprehensive sex ed is to reduce the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. That sounds reasonable, at first glance. The underlying premise, however, is that teenagers are brimming with hormones and will have sex, whether we like it or not, so best show them how to use a condom.
To that end, the Obama administration took away $100 million from abstinence programs and spent nearly a billion dollars on comprehensive sex ed known as the Teen Pregnancy Program (TPP). A recent Health and Human Services report foundthat teens in some TPP programs were more likely to begin having sex, more likely to begin having oral sex, and more likely to get pregnant than teens who did not take the class; 80 percent fared no better than or actually did worse than non-TPP students.
Many parents who addressed the JCPS board on Nov. 29 similarly argued that sex ed should teach students risk avoidance, not risk reduction. The best way for a teenager to avoid the risks of unwanted pregnancy and sexual infections altogether is to not have sex.
That entails more than preaching abstinence. It requires empowering students to defer gratification, master their passions, remain focused on long term goals — to learn self control and patience. A curriculum that teaches risk avoidance, therefore, has broader applications than just deferring when a child becomes sexually active.
A curriculum based on abstinence need not (and should not) evoke fear or guilt or teach that sex is bad. Nor should an emphasis on abstinence omit the lesson of treating all people with dignity and respect. Rather, the point should be to elevate sex to its proper context.
Risk avoidance recognizes that teenagers are more than the sum of their hormones. Risk reduction, in contrast, takes a cynical view of what is attainable for a teenager — similar to what former President George W. Bush called the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
At the very least, parents must ask to review what is being taught to their children to make sure it doesn’t undermine the values they are trying to instill; if it does, opt out.
Regardless of one’s opinion, it is unrealistic to expect that JCPS will teach everything that parents want their child to know about sex. Parents will have to supplement and perhaps enlist the help of their church, on the one hand, or Planned Parenthood on the other.
There is no reason to believe that JCPS’s success rate at sex ed will exceed what it has, or has not, achieved with other more traditional academic subjects. Some would advance the “radical” view that a school district should focus on those other subjects rather than advance a more “comprehensive” sex ed agenda.