Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hey, public schools: it’s time for a separation of sex and state

Matt Walsh writes:

**Warning: some graphic language in this post.  Hehehe

I don’t think public schools should teach kids about abstinence.  I don’t think they should teach kids about condoms. I don’t think they should teach kids about birth control pills, or virginity pledges, or sex before marriage, or sex after marriage. I don’t think they should teach kids about any of the things on this poster:

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So, you don't want schools to teach children about talking?

Oral sex, sexual fantasy, touching each other’s genitals, anal sex, vaginal intercourse, grinding, masturbation — those all appeared on “teaching material” for a sex-ed class  Oh dear. It appears your only source of information is a bona fide propaganda mill at Hocker Grove Middle School in Kansas. They claim this was actually part of an abstinence program, and that the photo is taken out of context.  Ok, that is one example (filtered through a biased news source). So then you did some research into the most common types of sex-ed curricula throughout the United States, right? ....right?

Personally, I don’t need context. I don’t think public schools should be teaching kids, one way or another, in any context at all, for any reason whatsoever, about any of those things.

I don’t think anyone should be sending their children to government buildings to learn about the perils or pleasures of intercourse or masturbation or sodomy.

I don’t think government schools should teach kids about sex.

It’s really very simple. How much sexual guidance and instruction should the government offer our kids? None. What percentage of your child’s government education should be comprised of sexual enlightenment? Zero percent. How many times in a given school day should the phrase “genital touching” be uttered by a teacher to a classroom of students? Less than once. Actually, let’s be safe and say zero.

This, my friends, is the Great Compromise. Instead of arguing about WHAT the schools should tell kids on the subject of sex, let’s contemplate the possibility that a collective, government-controlled, mass produced and disseminated ”curriculum” about sex and intimacy isn’t necessarily the best way to handle such a profound and personal subject.  I'm having a hard time contemplating that possibility since the existence of a government-controlled, mass produced and disseminated curriculum about sex is far from ever being a reality. It took decades of struggle just to establish voluntary national guidelines on subjects that really matter.  Curriculum decisions are very decentralized. They are becoming less so, but still more than they should be.

I’m not saying that we should put censor bars over the penis and the vagina in the anatomy textbooks (or in books of Renaissance art, for that matter). I’m also not saying that high school biology teachers should tell their 16 year old students that a magical stork drops the baby off on momma’s porch. And I’m not saying that students shouldn’t learn about the facts of human reproduction when the subject comes up in science class.
I’m saying that the schools ought to treat sex the same way most people think it ought to treat religion, and for the same reasons. The “keep religion out of schools” folks will argue that schools should not endorse a particular religion. ...And... you disagree? They shouldn’t condemn or condone the teachings of any particular religion. They shouldn’t encourage kids to be religious or irreligious. They shouldn’t incorporate religious orthodoxy into the curriculum. They shouldn’t ask kids about their personal religious practices. They shouldn’t have “religion classes.” They shouldn’t advance any religious agenda. They shouldn’t attempt to influence the religious beliefs or practices of the students.

In these ways, we should “keep religion out of schools.” However, the reasonable ones will certainly be quick to acknowledge that the FACT of religion shouldn’t be censored or avoided. You are implying there are "unreasonable" ones who don't. Got evidence? You can’t very well give your students a comprehensive understanding of western history without discussing Christianity. You can’t provide a well rounded education about literature without introducing the Bible, which is the most influential and widely read piece of literature in the history of mankind. You can’t teach about art and avoid religiously inspired paintings and sculptures. You can’t talk about contemporary Middle Eastern conflicts without introducing Judaism and Islam. You can’t teach the history of Asia without Hinduism, or Buddhism, or Taoism.

Religion will inevitably be a part of many other subjects, but it shouldn’t be its own subject, and schools should never attempt to teach kids how to feel about, or what to do with, religion.

In that sense, and only in that sense, can you make a coherent “keep religion out of schools” case. And it’s in that sense that I make my case for keeping sex out of schools. Anatomy will come up in anatomy classes, and reproduction will come up in science classes, but that’s where it ends.

“Comprehensive sex education” is a sham and a joke. It’s also more than just a little creepy. If an adult in ANY OTHER CONTEXT came up to your child and tried to strike up a conversation about ”self-pleasure” or “oral sex,” you’d likely have … uh… “words”… with him, and then words with the police.  ...And it wouldn't seem creepy if an adult randomly approached your child and started a conversation about the scientific facts of reproduction? Yet, teachers are able to discuss these things just fine. In fact, I never found it weird when teachers talked to us about puberty and reproductive anatomy. It was matter of fact. It seems, Matt Walsh, that you are just particularly squeamish about sex.

I fail to see much of a difference.  Because you don't want to.

The schools are in a pretty enviable spot here. They can institute a certain policy, and if the policy fails they can turn around and blame the parents. (Evidence?) This has become a tried and true strategy throughout our society. (Evidence?) Just blame the parents. Bad parents! Bad parents! Bad parents! Keep screwing up and ruining generations of children with your corruption and ineptitude, and if people start to complain, simply repeat that refrain. Bad parents!  I presume I have more experience with schools and the field of education than Matt Walsh. I received an advanced degree in education and have spent time in various capacities with all types of schools. I have never once heard anyone blame anything on "bad parents." Possibly the general socioeconomic circumstances in which students live, but not their "bad parents." Quite the opposite. It is always assumed that parents are invested in their children, and will take a more active role if they are allowed more opportunities for participation. Parents are treated as valuable stakeholders. I really do wonder to what extent Matt Walsh completely makes this stuff up, or to what extent it comes from the Fox News-Propoganda-Brainwash-Machine.

So as “comprehensive sex education” has become more commonplace (Evidence?), and as the schools’ message about sex becomes more progressive and permissive (Evidence?), we can look around us and see what’s happening:

Out of wedlock birthrates continue to climb, now pushing 40 percent as a national average. 110 million men and women have STDs. The divorce rate remains tragically high, tempered only by the increasing number of young people who have sworn off marriage entirely. Kids turn to porn at younger and younger ages. People in general are less capable of finding and maintaining healthy romantic relationships. Over 250 thousand people are raped or sexually assaulted every year.   Man, this stuff is held in a one-to-one linear-causal relationship with so many different things. I'm losing track of all of them. Now it's sex ed.

It’s a grim picture, to be sure., and I certainly don’t blame it all on the schools. Oh, ok, I see. You can’t pin something like this on any one culprit. What is your evidence that schools have any responsibility for this trend whatsoever? But, at the very least, our mission to give kids a “progressive” government sex education doesn’t appear to be accomplishing desirable results. What mission? I have never heard about this mission. By the way, you really need to stop using the word "government" in relation to public schools. It is misleading, for one thing (creating the impression of national control and involvement of government officials where it does not exist).

Sex-ed proponents will joyfully celebrate the decline in the “teen birth rate,” as if the statistic immediately indicates a positive cultural development. In reality, it CAN be a good sign, but consider that a million babies are aborted every year, and this is one way that some of these teens escape being a “teen birth rate” statistic. Actually, the teen abortion rate is also dropping. Do your research. Also, some studies will absurdly compare teen birth rates from SEVENTY YEARS AGO to current rates. Sure, there were more “teen births” back then, but do you know what else was more common? Teen marriage. The average age for a woman to get married in 1940 was 21. That means many of these teen births occurred within the context of a loving marriage.

The more relevant statistic to analyze is out-of-wedlock births, regardless of the age of the woman. In that particular race, we crush the competition. And it’s not even close.  If you admitted other factors are involved in these "out-of-wedlock births" - what is the point of this tangent?

None of this matters, though. The evidence against government ahem! public sex-ed is deflected and used to once again indict parents and families. (Evidence?)  The indictment of parents and families is then offered as proof that we need more of the thing that’s clearly contributing to the problem it was allegedly designed to fix.
Parents are incompetent and incapable of teaching their children, and the schools will save the day! We’ve been hearing this for years, yet the schools haven’t saved anything. They’ve only exacerbated the problem (Evidence?), but they escape scrutiny righhht... nobody EVER criticizes the schools.... because it’s more popular to keep the fingers pointed at those pesky parents. Sighhh....

It’s true that some parents aren’t willing to talk to their kids about sex, or they are but they aren’t very good at it. So what? The schools are even less competent (Evidence?), and it isn’t any of their business.

Aside from the strictly anatomical matters and the purely scientific aspect of human reproduction which is precisely what my own public school sex ed (as well as many others) consisted of, it is impossible to discuss sex without attaching a set of moral lessons to it. Unless you’re a robot with robot children, when you teach your kids “about sex,” you’re also teaching them what sort of attitudes and perspective they ought to have on the matter. This is a good thing when you are the parent and they are your offspring, but when you are a teacher in a government PUBLIC school, and they are other people’s kids, it’s highly inappropriate. You are trespassing onto territory where you don’t belong.

Let parents teach the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” of sex, and let churches moralize and sermonize about it. The government has no role here.

This subject belongs to parents. It is their domain. If they shirk their responsibility, then I feel sorry for their kids. Still, public schools are not surrogate mothers. Lazy, selfish parents might want them to be, but that doesn’t change anything.

So while progressives take the Ten Commandments and the crucifixes out of the schools  Ahhhh why is it necessary to always repeat this trope from the Fox News Propaganda Machine???? In what percentage of schools has this happened? And why is that a bad thing? By your own arguments concerning religion in schools above, it is perfectly reasonable to not have crucifixes and 10 commandments in schools, I’ll come in right behind them and clean out the condoms and the birth control brochures. And then we can meet in the parking lot and swap. I’ll take my religion home to my kids, and they can take their sexual permissiveness home to theirs. (Wanting your children to be educated about safe sex = wanting your children to have lots of sex)

Meanwhile, the schools can stick to the ABCs and 123s, and we’ll all be better for it.

This post requires a little more reflection at the end. For once, Matt Wash is not taking an unreasonable position (although his argumentation is just as weak and flawed as usual: lack of real evidence, making stuff up, putting words in other people's mouths...)  First, a little background on the topic.

There has always been disagreement about what the proper role of public schools should be. Is it to provide a basic foundation of knowledge? Is it to prepare students for work and careers? Is it to prepare them for life in general? Is it to help them develop properly and care for their mental and physical health?

Personally, I have always been in the "basic foundation of knowledge" camp. In my ideal fantasy curriculum (which is a very long Word document) I cut out things like gym, health, and "blow off" classes. I also cut out classes devoted to particular arts and musical instruments, and subsumed artistic and musical creation into a broad humanities education. Children can do sports and take music classes on the their own time, right? (Well, maybe not, but I'll get to that in a second.)

So I don't have that much natural inclination to disagree with Matt Walsh on this topic.

Except, I fear Matt Walsh does not understand the complexity of the situation. It seems that his opposition to sex ed stems more from his discomfort with sex in general, and his unsubstantiated belief that most schools are teaching details about sex, not just facts about puberty, health, and reproduction. He is not really thinking about this issue in the context of the proper role of schools in society - and to the extent that he is thinking about it (evidenced at the very end), based on his rhetoric and use of terms like "government schools" one can reasonably surmise he is only considering it in so far as he would like to place limits on the role of public education because ewww government. It's the old "government shouldn't do things that individuals/families can do" argument.

I would still, in an ideal world, like to limit the role of schools so they can concentrate on one thing and one thing only. But let's think about why anyone wanted to expand the role of schools in the first place. Social reformers were going about the slums and seeing children with all kinds of health problems. It was a big, big problem. If someone really cares about children (as Matt Walsh claims he does whenever abortion is mentioned) then they won't want to ignore this reality. It's not that their parents were lazy or selfish (seems like it's Matt Walsh who is using the "bad parents" argument) but that, due to socioeconomic circumstances, they were unable to provide a safe healthy environment for their children. So, the social reformers were like, "Hmm. We don't want to see all these children dying of starvation and preventable diseases. We value children. We value life. Society is failing them,and society has an obligation to do better." A number of actions were taken, one of which was to provide health and hygiene services in the schools.

See, the thing is, schools can't educate children very well if they are hungry and sick. So, if health services and health education are provided, schools can do their jobs better. I'm not saying that's a great solution. Schools don't have the resources to solve all of society's problems. But if no one else was going to provide these services, better they exist somewhere than not at all.

As the complexities of structural poverty and urban decay evolved throughout the 20th century (and beyond), so too did visions for the way in which schools could be integrated into the community - GED classes and career centers for adults, e.g.  As arts and music get cut from schools, a movement has pushed back, arguing that children in impoverished areas, in particular, don't have access to these things outside of school. And art and music can be vital to a developing child's life, epsecially if the child is suffering the hardships of poverty.

As for the argument that schools should not be a "surrogate mother"? Well, they kind of already are. If children weren't at school, parents would have to stay home and care for them. Schools are responsible for ensuring their safety and developing life skills. They also spend a heck of a lot of time with children, compared to parents. If you're of the "it takes a whole village" mentality, that's no biggie. Other people from the community are helping you raise your children while you work. (Unless you are privileged enough to be a stay-at-home parent.)

The arguments for expanding the role of schools are perfectly valid. It is possible to advocate for a more limited function of schools while stll acknowledging that fact. Social reality is complex and there are no simple answers. I tend to think it is better to let schools concentrate on what they are best equipped to do, and to take broader action against poverty, rather than placing the entire burden on schools. But, on the other hand, I can see that such a limitation would have immediately negative consequences for a vulnerable population, and I am not okay with that. Complexity! A rock and a hard place.

Matt Walsh is denying the existence of the hard place, and that is not helpful for anyone.

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