Leave it to the States: A Refutation

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Just as some may argue that sexual education is decision made by parents, it can also be argued that it the curriculum should be decided on by each individual state, because if we’re being honest, America’s public school system is failing us. In 2010, a documentary titled Waiting for Superman showed viewers the shortcomings of public schooling in urban areas specifically. Desperate parents and educators are turning to public charter schools, which serve their children better than the public schools, where allegedly, their teachers don’t care. As our argument is for a comprehensive sexual education across the nation, we are arguing for a standardized education, one that is not left up to the states. (In this article, we will present arguments for standardized education as a general movement, but our applications and examples will focus on standard ized sex ed.)

In 2015, Jeb Bush argued in this Washington Post op-ed that state-decided education is better tailored to the needs of students. National education policy is so muddied up that the true purpose of education is being pushed to the side. Educating students, not payroll, tenure, should be the priority. Bruce Fuller’s book, Standardized Childhood: The Political and Cultural Struggle Over Early Education writes that the education reform movement is an orchestration of elitist society to “push a normative way of raising children.

While our public school system may be suffering, the answer is not to abandon it, and certainly not when it comes to a sexual education program. Sexual education is not a cultural preference, nor is it “normative.” Young people need to know about their bodies and their reproductive functions and processes. Bush argues that education today is not focused on students anymore. Sex ed is wholly about students. It is at least one thing students learn in grade school that has application outside of a classroom or job setting. Sex ed. is purely for the student’s benefit- it is not about “the future that liberals want.” It is not an erosion of culture. Safe sex education, knowledge about STDs and your natural bodily functions and processes are universal necessities. Regardless of what state, and even what country they live in, people are prone to the same dangers and misconceptions about sex and their bodies. Our push for standard comprehensive sex ed. is not pushing against cultural values either: sex ed is applicable to you whether you are unmarried or married, and whether you are straight or gay. All people deserve education, and sexual education is included in that.

STD-USA-Map
Check out this interactive map of STDs in the United States by city.

Knowing this, it seems clear that allowing states to be in charge of sexual education standards and curriculum is not to our benefit. However, if this is not convincing enough, look at this issue from a socioeconomic standpoint. Waiting for Superman explains that schools are funded by the taxes, and in urban lower income areas, schools are getting less and less. Without a national standard for sexual education, there is nothing to prevent a school from cutting it altogether and leaving students totally unaware of what is happening with their bodies. This not only affects the students, but their potential sexual partner(s) or children as well. In schools with abstinence only policies, rates of teen pregnancy are much higher. If we can agree that teenagers are not ready to be parents, then we can agree that they need a comprehensive sex ed which includes more than just the “facts.”

Finally, proponents of states education believe that when states and school districts have control, the needs and wants of parents and students can be better addressed in the curriculum. This sounds lovely if you are living in a medium to high income area where a lot of parents have had an education and understand the value of schooling. In lower income areas, parents may not even have the time to be involved in their child’s education. Parent-teacher associations (PTAs) are a luxury for people who have time. Other barriers that require consideration are language barriers and education levels.  State/district decided education is great for privileged people, but it is not great for everyone. College educated parents who speak English and have stable well paying jobs with predictable hours are better equipped to help schools develop a curriculum because they understand what is being considered. Parents who spend all their time working to support their families are counting on the schools to take care of education of education for them. Even college educated parents are expecting this- my parents expected that what I learned in school should be enough. Standardized sex ed. circumvents the differing home views on sexual education as well. Different cultural backgrounds can affect parents’ comfort level or choice to talk about sex with their kids. If there was no sexual education offered at school, my parents would have taught me themselves, or maybe they wouldn’t have. But because my school did offer it, we never needed to have “the talk” at home. If all schools implement the same sex ed. program, then regardless of parents’ position on it, and regardless of their involvement in the school process, students will leave schools with the necessary knowledge and tools.

State-decided education in the end, is a cop-out. If our national school system is suffering, the answer is not to pull kids out if it, but to improve it. In a society of so many disparities, education should be an equalizer, not a magnifier of disadvantage. Yet, state-decided education falls heavily in favor of more affluent states, and within them, more affluent districts. Standardized education touches on far more than just sexual education, but it’s the same as teaching kids how to read- they will all need it at some point in their lives. Superman isn’t coming; it’s up to us to save our own education system. So this is our demand of those in charge of education: give us a standardized sexual education program, or we will give you rising STD and teen pregnancy rates.

 

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Ignorance is Not Bliss

As the call for comprehensive sexual education grows louder, the push-back against it only intensifies. Claims that comprehensive sex ed encourage and trivialize sex are rampant, with many arguing that informing students about birth control options, abortions, and sexual health provides students with a means of engaging in premarital sex. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support that teens who are taught comprehensive sex ed are more likely to engage in premarital sex.

This knowledge does not stop opponents from claiming comprehensive sex ed is Image result for ontario sex edfundamentally flawed. Lori Cole, executive director of the Eagle Forum, a conservative lobby group, argues that comprehensive sex ed sends mixed signals to students by giving kids more information about risky behaviors rather than simply teaching them to avoid those behaviors. She argues that teaching students about contraception yet advising them to wait to have sex  gives students conflicting messages about when to have sex. The fact of the matter though, is that teens are already having premarital sex, whether they are being taught comprehensive sex ed or not. In fact, Mississippi, which predominantly teaches students that abstinence is the only responsible choice, has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country. We need to stop fooling ourselves with this idea that all young people are saintly virgins and start actually preparing them for the awkward, yet important, realities of sex. Teaching teens about contraceptives is not going to motivate them to have sex, because clearly they are already self-motivated enough; comprehensive sexual education simply gives them the tools they need to be safe.

Contrary to the beliefs of its opponents, comprehensive sex ed does not entail handing out condoms and saying “have fun kids.” It still promotes abstinence as the most effective way of preventing STIs and unwanted pregnancies. In fact, comprehensive sex ed is shown to reduce the frequency of sex by almost 30%.  Furthermore, when people fight against comprehensive sex ed, they aren’t just fighting against contraception knowledge, they are also fighting against knowledge of healthy relationships, the avoidance of unwanted sexual advancements, and medically accurate information.

So, no, Lori, comprehensive sex ed does not send mixed signals or promote premarital sex, it just acknowledges the fact that teens are going to have sex so they might as well be prepared.

Don’t Dump the Funding, Trump!

In recent years, comprehensive sexual health programs have seen an increase in federal funding with about $176 million dollars spent in 2016; whereas, abstinence-only programs receive about half of that amount at $85 million dollars, also spent in 2016. Sexual educators can thank Former President Barack Obama for this allocation of funding, but the Obama Administration is something of the past with new laws and regulations coming about. The future of sexual education programs is now in the hands of the new and unpredictable administration of the United States of America.

trump-thumbs-down-800President Donald Trump and the Republican Party agree that the goal of sexual education programs is to reduce teen pregnancy, which has already been seeing a decline in the past few years alone. Unfortunately, they do not believe comprehensive sexual education is the reason for this lowering statistic. Instead, they believe the decline in teen pregnancy is due to restricting access to abortions and also the upbringing of more abstinence-only programs. These programs teach children that a faithful, married relationship is the only expected standard of sexual behavior and are extremely judgmental to any other type of sexual behavior that is outside the realm of marriage. Not only is this seen as naive in today’s society, but they are also against the use of contraceptives, even though they claim they would like to see a continuous decrease in teenage pregnancy, which contraceptives indeed help with. The underlying religious aspect of these programs prevents children from learning the full scope of what it means to be sexually active and performing healthy sexual behaviors.

abstinence-only-education-288x300Abstinence-only programs are not the answer to the problem of teen pregnancy. These programs try to induce a certain aspect of fear towards teenagers who may or may not be sexually active, which may work on some children, but the lack of “real-world” education puts these children at a disadvantage and at risk. Teens are exposed to many sexual behaviors through social media, their peers, and through subliminal messages each and every day. Without the proper education to prevent diseases from spreading and knowing of various alternative methods to prevent pregnancy, these kids are more likely to harm themselves and others. Most teens graduate high school and enter college without a formal sexual education from public school systems, other than experience. Instead of taking away funding from comprehensive sexual education programs, President Donald Trump should consider the implications behind teaching children that abstinence is the only way to be safe, which could have more backlash than anticipated.

Leave it to the Parents! A Refutation


As the discussion of mandating comprehensive sex education programming in public high schools rises and falls from the political spotlight the same arguments resurface. One of which proposes that the responsibility of teaching sex education to children and teens falls on the parents, thus, allowing for more particular control of the content provided. This argument is often paired with the belief that the government should stay out of structuring curriculums around a topic as broad and individualized as sex. However, it’s shown that methods such as this are rather ineffective and non-comprehensive.m f symbols on bks

The debate is a heated one, as exemplified by an Omaha Public Schools meeting where the discussion of updating the three-decade-old sex education curriculum resulted in a brawl between parents, some arguing against the change with the belief that, “parents should lead the private discussion of sexual expression.” This argument, however, does not guarantee that every child’s right to education about their own bodies and sexual safety would be met. It is more common now that the responsibility is shared between not only parents, but also health workers, teachers, and schools. This system works more effectively to provide coverage of a broader range of topics, as the student is provided education regarding a variety of perspectives, and avoids the pitfalls of abstinence-only sex ed.

The reality is also that the majority of parents and young people in America support the implementation of these comprehensive programs. So, while authors at ‘The Blaze’ and other more conservative individual’s argue that it is the duty of parents, the truth is that most parents don’t want to have that responsibility and young people don’t want to hear their parents version of ‘the talk’.

The bigger problem, however, is that parents (as great as they think they might be) may not provide comprehensive, all-covering sex education. Parents are more likely pass on beliefs that they hold to be true, many of which lean more on the side of opinion rather than fact. However, evidence shows that children provided with quality sex education through school are not more likely to become sexually active or increase sexual activity, contract STD’s or face adverse health effects. Teens with comprehensive sex education were also 50 percent less likely to become pregnant.

While it is important that parents start a dialogue with their children about sex and it’s various possible consequences it is crucial that public schools and government programs provide a standard that means every child receives the accurate knowledge to give them the basic need that is understanding their own body, their own sexuality, sexual health, the nature of consent, and basic biology.