On Tuesday night, PBS stations all over the country aired a documentary about the approach to sex education in the public school system of the town of Lubbock, Texas (“The Education of Shelby Knox). It was very interesting, because it directly addressed the issue of moral values, as narrowly defined by extreme conservatives during the last presidential election.
The Lubbock public school system has a policy of promoting abstinence as the sole approved form of sex-ed. (Interestingly, the documentary does not make any comments on the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education programs, perhaps to refrain from taking sides on such a controversial topic.) The documentary recounts the battle that pitched a group of local teenagers, determined to change the way sex education is handled in Lubbock schools, against the school board and local church groups, who staunchly and vocally opposed any changes to the current system. In their capacity as members of the Lubbock Youth Commission, the teenagers tried—unsuccessfully—to have the scope of sexual education expanded to cover issues such as the proper use of birth-control (in response to high rates of teen pregnancy), the use of protection against STDs, also on the rise among students in Lubbock, and gay and lesbian sex.
After viewing the documentary, a few things immediately came to mind. First of all, the main issue here should not be how sex education might properly be addressed, but rather who should be in charge of it. Is it fair to put the burden of sex education on the shoulders of the school system, or should we expect other parties to play a primary role? I prefer to take the position that the perception that sex education should be legitimately be taught in schools is proof of the failure of parents to be active in the upbringing of their children. This does not mean that talk of sexual matters should be banned from schools altogether, or that the subject should be taboo in the education system. Rather, it simply means that parents and family should be the primary agents of guidance and direction on the subject, one so delicate in every community and for every belief system. Schools, and even more so public health agencies, should be involved as secondary providers of voluntary or additional counseling for those kids who do not find the necessary support structure in their family.
Another disquieting point comes in the form of a comment made by Pastor Ed Ainsworth towards the end of the documentary. The Pastor states that kids who are pushing for an expanded presentation of sex education should seek instruction at private schools. This is an appalling statement to make because, last I checked, the separation of church and state would seem to require that public schools, even those that operate in a predominantly Christian constituency, refrain from imparting education which assumes the predominance of the Christian faith over other faiths, or no faith at all. In fact, it has been a long-standing custom in all civilized countries, where the separation of church and state is defined by clear boundaries, that public schools are to offer education acceptable to all, whereas private religious schools are free to present and to exercise their alternative beliefs on education. But in the current political climate, the tables have been turned, and it is now the proponents of secular standards that are required to adjust to a vocal and tyrannical minority who wishes to impose its narrowly-defined moral values over the rest of society.
In conclusion, does the topic of sex education deserve a place in public school systems? Alas, possibly, due to the failure of parents to perform as moral instructors for their children. However, if we must accept sex education as a necessity in our school systems, we should understand that it should be structured to cover the breadth and the diversity of opinions that exist on the subject, even if this results in the disgruntled protest of a numerous minority of religious extremists.