Sex education: a matter of body & soul

Smith, Karen Sue

SEX EDUCATION: A NATTER OF BODY & SOUL CURRICULUM. COMMUNITY, & CONSENSUS KAREN SUE SMITH Last October, foes of sex education lost an eloquent spokesman Surgeon General C Everett Koop...

...It's a new religion " Currently, diocesan campaigns are being waged to assure that parents and clergy arc informed of the issues and to encourage them and other parishioners to volunteer to serve on school district and local school advisory committees...
...Teachers at the junior high level are cautioned against making "censorious statements which will decrease students' feelings of self-worth...
...This may be judged inadequate or weak, but to call it "acceptance" is not merely imprecise, it is unjustly inflammatory...
...a copy of the health clinic parental consent form...
...On the other hand, the society does espouse values...
...To do so, schools have a role to play as supports for parental and community values, a role that deserves more than lip service from school administrators...
...Several of the concrete recommendations along these lines by the diocese would significantly improve the curriculum...
...We are not taking away anything...
...how to decide which behavior is best when peer values conflict with parental values...
...KARTN Sl...
...Consensus will require not only honesty and dialogue, but a willingness to give and take...
...Are there different pressures for the male and female...
...that his or her child be withdrawn from the coun.e Naturally...
...Bishop 10 April 1987: 209 Fdward M. tgan...
...210: Commonweal...
...this is our value, the most credible thing we have...
...Macchiarola's statement echoes the New York State Catholic Conference's 1986 guidelines, "Education on Human Sexuality: A Catholic Reflection"": Fu>ch diocese and parish must also be concerned with programs of education in sexuality found in public schools...
...They illustrate well the need for candor and consensus...
...Here, negative stereotyping clearly represents behavior the course is seeking to curb...
...reputation for the cultural avant garde, and sheer size makes an instructive case study The same month Kt>op made his speech, all seven members of the New York City Board of Education voted to require every public school to implement a sex education program, using as a base the revised curriculum...
...It risks eroding the church's credibility and the kind of trust that is crucial if consensus is ever to be reached on this issue...
...It conveys information about sexuality in a mechanical fashion and a purely secular vocabulary...
...After his retirement, however, Brande says, "The roof fell in...
...No, we're not in a position to identify what the ideal family is...
...These realities raise a host of questions for educators: If low self-esteem is a major contributor to premature sexual activity, pregnancy, and anti-social behavior among youth, can the school foster a healthy self-image among its students by holding up expectations for family life that half its students' families fail to exemplify...
...It is unfortunate that an archdiocesan spokesman...
...In the following awkwardly worded paragraph, the intent is clearly to support abstinence: Young people are often made to feel that they must have sex...
...Indeed, critics have charged that the curriculum is not merely morally vacuous, but that sexual activity by children and teens is treated as "acceptable" behavior...
...And advocates of values in sex education are arguing, in light of these same statistics and with the schools' questions in mind, that we had better hang onto and strengthen what societal consensus there is concerning our most basic values before the damages grow even worse...
...The curriculum is devoid of moraJ values 206: Commonweal and premises...
...Furthermore, the expectation within the curriculum that students already arrive at school with values planted and cultivated by home, church, and synagogue should challenge Catholic parents, clergy, and educators to make sure this assumption is valid...
...How can we prevent it...
...In the lesson for fifth and sixth grades, for example, teachers are instructed to emphasize that "when people really care about you, they will respect your right to say no...
...While these lessons might be made stronger and clearer, they do encourage "abstinence" of a sort not giving in to peer pressure to engage in sexual activity even on occasions when they do not mention the term directly...
...But to reject a public school curriculum until it teaches that sex should be postponed until marriage that is, to expect it to teach the value of life-long chastity and sexual intercourse only within marriage (as the church teaches but the society at large does not espouse or practice) is to prevent a consensus on the curriculum as a whole...
...admonished teachers that as children "grow older they should receive positive and prudent education in matters relating to sex...
...Those who criticize the curriculum for its "morality by consensus" approach to issues are correct about one thing: morality itself is not determined by consensus...
...which family pattern should be presented as the ideal...
...Such a charge might readily get people's attention, or their attendance at a meeting, but it docs so at the expense of misleading them...
...He keeps pressuring her, saying that he'll find someone else if she keeps refusing...
...A lack of values, critics say, lies at the heart of the curriculum's hesitancy to say when sexual activity is appropriate and when it is not...
...Robert Terte, Director of Public Affairs for the Board explains that a "moral vacuum is not the intention of the program...
...the directives insist that an advisory committee for each school and district review the program annually...
...Reality and ideals...
...A convincing case can be made, and ought to be made, that the language used is too weak in its attempts to present the disadvantages of sexual activity by children and teens especially given the amount of time and space allotted to contraception, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases...
...Regardless of what people say their values are, the facts are grim...
...If parents are ill-equipped for the job, the church and school can help them...
...which contraceptive methods are preferable, and so on...
...That overlooks the reality that many parents become parents at age fourteen or fifteen...
...whether or not homosexuality is just one mode of sexual expression among others...
...Having said this, it is only fair to add that the diocesan statement above is an overstatement, a serious misrepresentation of the spirit and letter of the curriculum The schools simply have to recognize the fact that some children (hundreds of thousands of them each year) arc or will become sexually active in their preteens and teens, and they must teach .students about contraception, prenatal care, and disease...
...Words like "unwise" and "dangerous" are among the strongest terms employed anywhere in the curriculum...
...Health clinics in several schools were set up which dispensed contraceptives with parental consent-slips too difficult for many parents to comprehend...
...The school can't say, 'You're a bastard...
...and an annotated dissection of typical Board arguments used on behalf of the sex ed program in meetings with parents...
...To examine all of these objections, while pertinent and important, is beyond the scope of this article...
...Ralph Brande retired in 1984 after serving as superintendent of Brooklyn's District 22, one of the heavily Roman Catholic elementary districts selected to pilot the revised sex education program, beginning in 1981...
...The costs of such an impasse should be carefully weighed...
...Packets of materials are being distributed to pastors and administrators They contain detailed lists of problem areas* within the curriculum...
...In sum, my point is that, despite the failure to say clearly that young people should not engage in sexual intercourse, this curriculum treats sexual activity by youth in the same way that it treats other behaviors it is designed to discourage...
...1986 have unmarried parents...
...Yet the teacher is asked to help students examine the problems and dangers of adolescent sexual intimacy, and to "highlight the positive values of love, commitment, and marriage...
...This behavior is acceptable as long as no one becomes pregnant or contracts a sexually transmitted disease Girls should know that should they become pregnant, abortion is an alternative which they may choose without the knowledge or consent of their parents...
...the curriculum has been piloted in four elementary districts (two heavily Roman Catholic) and several high schools over a four-year pcn<xl without major, irrecon cilable objections...
...Is sex education in New York City public schools dealt with in an honest and appropriate way...
...A position paper drawn up by the Office of Catholic Education...
...The same note of danger is sounded in the New York bishops' statement in its suggestion that the government sponsor a media campaign "to alert teenagers to the dangers of premarital sex") Students are asked to role.play, write about, and discuss how they would "say no" under pressure...
...and condemning parental actions "which may differ from traditional codes...
...Family Living Including Sex Education " The Boards mandate gave foes of the city curriculum a rallying cry Opponents mounted a campaign to have the curriculum withdrawn and still further revised even though: 0 (he curriculum, in earlier editions, has been in place since 1967, # the revised third edition has been reviewed by an advisory committee composed of community leaders including clergy...
...She's a virgin and very reluctant...
...The argument is that such an ideal serves to undervalue the accomplishments of a happy "reconstituted" family husband, wife, and children from a previous marriage or the sacrifices of the mother who has successfully raised her family alone...
...Furthermore, consider that the curriculum includes lessons called "saying no" for students in fifth grade through high school...
...Whether the Board will be willing to make major changes at this point in time remains to be seen, but the basic debate on values may continue with each yearly review While it looks like a battle, the process itself could be valuable If parents respond positively, and if appeals to them are neither alarmist nor distorted, discussion could remind parents that the sexual education of their children is primarily their own responsibility...
...you come from an illegitimate family...
...Some who abstain from sexual activity may feel insecure, immature, or worried...
...not one mainline Protestant wa>among the signatories, unless one were to stretch the term to include Richard Neuhaus...
...You have to require honesty with parents about what children are going to be taught," Macchiarola says...
...Dr...
...The only stronger terms were the words "racist" and "sexist" used disparagingly in order to promote the values of racial and sexual equality...
...The value agreement |between the public school and the public] needs to be enlarged, not diminished...
...They are as strong as the terms "unkind and dangerous" which are used to discourage the stereotyping of individuals (homosexuals) by appearance or profession...
...I tried to get parents involved, but the school system is defensive...
...he curriculum may be adapted b> local districts, modifications subject to the approval of the chancellor...
...Frank Macchiarola, an active Catholic who was the school boards chancellor during the beginning of the recent revision process, and who is an opponent of the proposed sex education curriculum, says: "To say there's no place for values is ridiculous...
...It's frightening, children as parents...
...At the high school level, students are asked to apply their decision-making skills to such cases as: A girl of sixteen and a boy of seventeen have just started dating and he's urging her to have intercourse with him...
...Declaration on Christian F.ducation...
...But such a recognition and response does not, in itself, constitute a philosophy that sexual activity is "acceptable...
...the archdiocese makes clear that it is not opposed to sex education per se (As early as 1965 the Vatican document...
...An article by Gary L. Bauer in the Washington Post (January 5, 1987) listed these statistics: 14 percent of children who began school in September...
...This is a value that could be agreed upon by a diverse constituency for a variety of psychological, physiological, social, and moral reasons which involve no religious imposition of any kind...
...But the values which are to be included in a public school curriculum certainlv are...
...a poverty rate among single mothers and their children the economic factor inextricably intertwined with teen pregnancy that is growing faster than that of any other group...
...Although sound and commendable public school programs exist, others, while purporting to be value-free, are laden with values contrary to those which we hold to be most sacred...
...It should be evident from these examples that the thrust of the entire curriculum is on decision-making rather than on prohibiting certain behavior...
...in light of the AIDS crisis, explicit information about heterosexual and homosexual behavior should be included in school curricula What should be included in the curriculum' Who should decide'' What is the role of parents, health care professionals, and religious leaders0 How will these decisions be made, given our pluralistic society' These are some of the questions that have ignited the sex education debate around the nation And while it may not be a typical example...
...According to Frank Macchiarola...
...Together they noted their objections: primarily, that the traditional family deserved precedence over other family structures, and that homosexuality should not be tacitly approved...
...If consensus can be reached on strongly discouraging students" sexual activity, it would be worth a tradeoff of some lesser objection Catholic critics and others might have...
...testifying at a City Council hearing last month, failed to use the opportunity for 'calm and dispassionate" dialogue Referring to the proposed sex education curriculum, fcgan said: "The new rule is promiscuity is acceptable no matter what your age as long as you use drugs and devices to avoid pregnancy and as long as you are willing to kill what is in the mother...
...It could have been done correctly if we had realized the importance of values and trust...
...For reasons of emotional immaturity, not pregnancy or disease, the curriculum says, sexual intimacy among young people is referred to as "unwise" and "dangerous...
...COMMUNITY, & CONSENSUS KAREN SUE SMITH Last October, foes of sex education lost an eloquent spokesman Surgeon General C Everett Koop fanned an already inflamed na tional controvert about sex education in public schi>ols Koop suggested not only that sex education is essential, but (hat...
...it may even be encouraged by the program...
...it was prccisely a breach of trust created through a series of political acts by the school administration that originally corrupted the process of testing the sex education curriculum...
...10 April 1987: 207 A reading of the pilot edition of the curriculum shows that critics do have a point: the curriculum manages, for the most part, to avoid making moral pronouncements saying what is right or wrong even on issues for which it reserves its strongest language...
...The Harvey Milk high school was established for homosexual students with no significant public discussion or debate about the reasons or effects...
...Children already come to the school with values...
...It is the relation between them that forms the core of the dispute over values in education generally, and sex educa(ion in particular...
...New York City with its ethnic and religious diversity...
...What are some reasons this might happen...
...most notably, an insertion at strategic places in the text of the question: Why is it important not to engage in sexual intercourse as a young teen...
...How do you feel about the right to say no...
...Diocese of Brooklyn, describes what it calls"the philosophical underpinning of the curriculum"': Boys and girls, beginning around the fifth grade become sexually active and continue to be so with a variety of partners both homosexual and heterosexual throughout the rest of their lives...
...The two values that critics of the curriculum seem to mention most consistently are: that the traditional two-parent, stable family structure be presented as the achievable ideal, not one option among others, and that sexual activity outside of marriage be taught clearly as wrong...
...Births out of wedlock...
...The least controversial curriculum imaginable could be derailed by such events...
...Such balance in an otherwise negative assessment serves to engender trust...
...as a percentage of all births, increased more than 450 percent in just thirty years...
...Child and spouse abuse has climbed to its highest level since accurate polling began measuring it Add to this a divorce rate at around 50 percent...
...Woolsey cites "sexual abstinence, chastity, modesty, and maritaJ fidelity" as terms noticeably absent from the city's course...
...who was a signer Nor was the coalition, hast Brooklyn Churches, listed, a well organized group of activists know n for bending the ear of City Hall until hundreds of housing units had been erected in their community Publicly...
...We operate all the time with a set of values...
...On the one hand, it is the staggering realities of a generation of social upheaval and rapid change affecting sexual activity (with all its ramifications), marriage, family structures, and social tolerances which public school teachers face daily...
...Apparently what happened was that fallout over the city's school-based health clinics and the Harvey Milk school caused the trust that Brande had so carefully built between the community and the schools to cave in At this juncture, Brande advises: "There ought to be meetings at the highest levels, where in a calm and dispassionate way people can highlight areas of agreement and disagreement...
...Rather, it is this particular curriculum which dioceses reject The overarching objection is one applicable to programs around the country (and is not limited to sex education): the value-free pretensions of the curriculum In an op ed piece for.Wn w/m (January 8. 1987) Msgr John (j Woolsev wrote...
...There has to be dialogue and focus...
...the program has been voluntarily implemented by twenty-one out of thirty-two city elementary districts and aJI high schools...
...And all of these actions were taken without the prior consent of the central Board...
...Then, build on areas of agreement rather than antagonizing each other...
...Once these objections had been met by modifications in the district's version of the curriculum, Brande never received a single objection from any parent or anyone else...
...Brande, an active Catholic, father, and former teacher, chose several schools, principals he could trust, teachers amenable to training, and parent leaders even allowing local school board members to sit in on monthly curriculum review meetings if they wished...
...Will emphasizing the stable, twoparent model of family (an emphasis critics want) help students cope with parental divorce and other painful family changes they are facing...
...Finally, there is the high rate among teens of sexually transmitted diseases, the life and death specter of AIDS, and a rising rate of teen suicide...
...who wrote an open letter to the Board last December The letter was signed by diocesan officials plus several vicars, one rabbi, a few Orthodox priests, and a score of evangelical clergy Curiously...
...and to think ahead about how decisions they make now will affect the future...
...Finally, it is worth underlining that the credibility of the 208: Commonweal Brooklyn Diocese's written critique is enhanced considerably, not lessened, by the several comments that this or that section "is excellent...
...in loco parentis sine parentibus, not cum parentibus is what they want...
...SviitH is an assistant editor of Commonweal # an> parent ma> request, by signing a wauver...
...Among the discussion topics for this scenario is the "right to say no...
...I don't believe you can say that the right to life is to be dismissed as religious...
...a position paper applying church teaching to the proposed curriculum...
...marriage for example, but not divorce...
...between one-quarter and one-third are latchkey children...
...40 percent will live in a broken home before they reach their eighteenth birthday...
...the cit> looks upon the activities of its critics as an effort to reopen a closed case This September, the curriculum is scheduled to be in place The most organized and vocal opponents of the plan include the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn, and an ad hi* group, the Coalition of Concerned Clergy...
...Maybe it will mean including more lessons and stronger language about postponing sex for children and teens...

Vol. 114 • April 1987 • No. 7


 
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