More claptrap about sex education

Excuse the pun, but here we go again.? News out of New York is that Gotham's public schools will ?mandate sex education? (how not to have sex, why not to have it, or to have it safely, whatever).? The city's schools don't have a history curriculum or science curriculum or math curriculum, but? by golly, they shall have Sex Education 101, 2, 3, etc. (I exaggerate, but not by much).

In fact, the most telling line in Fernando Santos' and Anna Phillips' front page New York Times story this morning is buried inside the paper, a third of the way through:

It is also unusual because the city does not often tell schools what to teach.

What is it about sex?? For some reason schools chancellor Dennis Walcott feels ?a responsibility? to impose sex education, as he tells the Times. So, why doesn't he feel the same responsibility about literature, mathematics, geography, art, music, science?

From the Times we learn that ?high schools in New York have been distributing condoms for more than 20 years.?? But wait, the next sentence reads, ?In the new sex-education classes, teachers will describe how to use them.?

You can't make this stuff up.

Unfortunately, teen pregnancy is an important subject that is rarely treated properly; i.e. as a symptom, not a disease.? Symptom of what?? Most of the subtext of the Times story assumes that teen pregnancy is caused by a deficit of knowledge about sex -- you don't know how to use a condom, how hard it is raise children, etc. -- when, in fact, it is a knowledge deficit of a completely different kind; i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic.? (I covered some of this territory last October.)

I was first introduced to the subject in the early 80s, when I wrote a long report about teen pregnancy for the Carnegie Corporation. It was the era of condom key chains and young kids ?taking care? of chicken eggs and sacks of sugar to teach them how difficult it is take care of a baby. ??(See my Education Next essay, ?Baby, Think it Over,? for the modern version of that particular pedagogical petard.)? I visited Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable High School in Chicago, subject of the infamous Chicago Sun-Times story (September 15, 1985) with the headline whose shock value can not be appreciated today:? ?Pill Goes to School.? ?(Here's Charles Krauthammer on that subject in 1986.)

I also sat in on dozens of sex education classes that were like history or math classes ? most of the kids weren't paying attention ? except that the kids already knew plenty about sex.? Something didn't make sense. Then I discovered? Leon Dash. The intrepid Washington Post reporter spent nearly a year hanging out with poor kids in southeast D.C., which had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, and concluded, in a 1984 series for the Post -- later turned into a book, When Children Want Children -- that kids had babies not because they were ignorant about sex but because ?it was the best option for fulfillment they had. Confounding conventional wisdom, Dash showed that teen pregnancy had less to do with sex than with hope -- or lack of it.

Hope for a better future. ?This is what schools need to offer. And they offer it by providing an education in core subjects, which in turn provide kids the option of going to college, which then gives them a chance to be productive members of society.

Let's stop the patronizing and start the real teaching. The last thing poor children need is sex education.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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