I learned about “the birds and the bees” while sitting in a barber chair. My father was a barber, so he knew that he had me pretty well trapped for however long it took to cut my hair or cover his topic, whichever came first.
My Christian father’s other favorite technique was to drive around to who knows where with me trapped next to him on the other side of the front seat. So sex education in my day was not a matter of what program might be in vogue in the local public school. It was a matter of Dad-picks-time-and-place, Dad-tells-son-what-son-needs-to-know, and Son-learns-from-Dad. That’s it. No curriculum—other than the Bible. No Parent Teacher Organization. No trained sex educators. And you better believe this: No recommended methods to assure “safe sex.” It was abstinence-only. Period.
So I wonder about programs like Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s “Talk Early & Talk Often,” initiated at the beginning of this school year. While TETO strives to encourage parents to talk with their children about sex before the kids learn from culture and media, I’m more skeptical than hopeful. The record of “sex education” programs, other than a few that are truly abstinence-only in their approach, is not all that promising. Many sex education programs do more to promote adolescent sex than prevent it. They do more to advance “alternative lifestyles” than to advance personal responsibility, and they more often suggest a “safe sex” approach than an “abstinence” approach to adolescent sexuality.
I’m glad TETO aims at parents, trying to assist them in acting as the primary sex educators of their children. They should be. But any government sponsored program, particularly in today’s politically charged and politically correct environment, will necessarily be devoid of any sound moral foundation. In other words, to be acceptable, these programs will have to avoid talking about real morality, right and wrong. Evidence for this can be found in one of TETO’s tips for parents: “Try not to be judgmental.” This may mean, “Don’t frown upon kids’ questions.” But it may mean, “Don’t tell kids what’s wrong with sex outside of a heterosexual, monogamous, lifelong marriage.” Or “Don’t tell kids they’re wrong for engaging in sexual relationships.”
For sex education to be effective—that is, for sex education to amount to more than the sharing of new knowledge about sex—sex education programs must also discuss values. If the end result of sex education is supposed to be fewer teen pregnancies, fewer abortions, fewer too-early-too-stressed-then-broken-marriages, fewer STDs contracted, fewer individuals forced into early sexual experiences against their will, or fewer abandoned babies, than what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” must be identified, considered, and hopefully understood and embraced by students in the sex education classroom. Sex education without values is no education at all. It’s just sex facts.
Most public school personnel involved in sex education programs are likely operating with the very best of motives and the highest standards of professionalism. I am not criticizing them. Rather I salute them. In this time and culture their task is truly over-stressed and generally under-valued. But public schools by definition are ill-equipped to provide moral instruction. In many cases they are not even allowed to provide moral instruction—at least clearly religiously based moral instruction. That’s why I believe public schools should concentrate their tight budgets and teaching assets on academic achievement, not sexual enlightenment.
I think parents, families, pastors, and churches should be teaching young people about what God says about human sexuality—that he created it, why he created it, how and when we may express it, and that we are accountable to him for all of it. Because many fathers and mothers abdicate their parental responsibilities is not cause for transferring that responsibility to public schools. Aimed at parents as it is, TETO may help, but I still don’t think it’s the answer.
Parents need to talk early and talk often to their children about sex. This I affirm. But I think these talks will be more effective if administered privately, individually, lovingly, knowledgeably, and frequently by present, involved, parents—not a school program. For children without present, caring parents, the local church should step in with knowledge and values, not the local school. I know this is not easy, but I believe it is right.
Dad didn’t have a degree in sex education. But his Christian commitment and biblical understanding, his upbringing on his family’s farm, his status as a happily married man, and his maturity qualified him to speak with authority. I was the beneficiary. I was given both facts and, more importantly, the values to interpret them.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005
*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.