Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The sex ed. debate: Who should teach our kids?

Last Friday, the Washington State House passed a bill that enacts a top-down mandate on sex education in local schools.

House Bill 1282 would require school districts to adopt state Department of Health guidelines for comprehensive sex education as well as to teach an abstinence program. If the bills goes through the requisite next steps of Senate passage and a gubernatorial signature, school districts will only have the option to teach state mandated sex curriculum, or no sex education at all. Many local districts opt to teach abstinence-only curriculum.

This bill represents another classic example of big government-knows-better-policy. Now the same sex education courses being taught at Franklin High in inner-city Seattle will be taught at Columbia High in rural Walla Walla. These are two very different locales that may have different views on how sex education should be taught.

This diminishes the role of local school boards in making decisions on how to teach their students. The legislation will also have the unintended consequence of having no sex education courses in many more schools.

Education begins at home – parents should be the foremost educators on matters concerning sex. Yet studies show that the home is usually the last place children learn about sex. Regardless, parents should be involved in decisions concerning how sex is taught in schools. When government at the state level decides the needs of local communities, the effectiveness of the school authority is squelched.

Rep. Shay Schual-Berke (D – Normandy Park), one of the most ostensibly liberal members of the House was none too surprisingly the prime sponsor of this bill. “If we don't give our teenagers the complete and accurate information they need,” she argued, “then why would we expect them to make the best decisions available to them?”

This is true. It behooves us to have the “bird and the bees” talk with our students. But it is the voice of Olympia the best way to give them this information?

Both Schual-Berke and the Health Department have touted that the new curriculum is modest and informative and most districts should agree with it already. If that is the case, then why does the state feel the need to demand they use only their ideas? A better alternative would have been to write the curriculum and present it to school districts as a teaching option. This would be effective for the schools that don’t want to devise their own sex ed classes.

Ironically, democrats whose campaigns are bought by teacher’s unions and public education activists have only passed legislation that will shoot them in the foot. Democrats have for years argued against allowing the expansion of school vouchers. When the state mandates how curriculum like sex ed (and who knows what else in the future) will be taught, the demand for school vouchers – public monies paying for private school options – will only come back to haunt them.

To say, “you’ll do it our way or you won’t do it at all” is a rather Machiavellian way to educate our children on the risks of pre-marital sex. Eliminating the role of the parent in how their child is educated further exudes an elitism that will leave many local districts opting out of teaching sex curriculum altogether. If the legislature were serious about making quality education decisions for our students, then it would allow such decisions to be made locally.

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