Morris: The Legislature Grapples With Sex Education
by Leo Morris
Let’s hear a faint word of encouragement for “family values,” that concept heaped with so much derisive scorn by too many liberals and showered with so much empty praise by too many conservatives. These values are weaker than ever at a time when we need them to be stronger than ever.
I remember my youth in the 1960s, when parents worked hard to prevent the introduction of sex education in schools so they could keep handling the subject the way their parents had, which was to ignore it completely so their children could pick it up from their peers and popular culture.
How things have changed. Now, parents want the removal of sex-education classes so they can keep ignoring the subject completely the way their grandparents did.
At least that was my thought when I saw that during the “chaotic” end to the current General Assembly session lawmakers managed to approve a piece of sex- education legislation. Its sponsors had wanted to replace the “opt out” feature for parents with an “opt in” feature that would have made providing sex education somewhat more difficult for schools. In the end, they decided to keep “opt out,” but strengthened the parental notification requirements.
Big whoop, thinks a retired neurosurgeon and teacher, Dr. Gregory J. Lewis, who says the details hardly matter since Indiana’s handling of the subject is all wrong in the first place.
Abstinence-based sex education (Indiana’s required approach) doesn’t work, he told the Evansville Courier & Press, “that’s all there is to it,” and if that’s all schools do, without, for example, explaining the benefits “if a condom is used correctly,” then they’re simply ignoring the fact that 65 percent of teenagers “are in some way sexually active and the other 35 percent want to be.”
When you come into a group of kids, he said, “and you teach with an ideology and you’re teaching them with ulterior motives, you’re doing a disservice.”
But wait a minute. Blithely accepting young people’s sexuality and merely teaching them the mechanics and how do the deed with the fewest complications — isn’t that also an ideology? Is that not also accompanied by ulterior motives?
Sex is one of the most powerful motivators of the human experience, the source of some of our greatest joy and deepest despair. It can be beautiful, even transcendent, or shallow, even ugly. It affects everything we do and touches everything we are. It simply cannot be taught without a value system of some kind attached.
The questions are: What values and whose values? And the efforts to teach sex without values is itself an ideology with ulterior motives, an ideology, incidentally, that has become the scourge of the age.
While we’re at it, let’s be honest here. This isn’t still the 1960s, when parents who ignored their responsibility were just throwing their children unprepared into the “sex now or wait till marriage” dilemma. (And, yes, yes, I understand – I’m setting up an arbitrary either-or choice; sex education can include both approaches. But if young people are told, “you should not do this” but “here is how to do it,” they are at best being given a mixed message.)
Youth today are confronted with issues like same-sex marriage, transgenderism, the hookup culture, trigger warnings, the #MeToo movement and myriad other “new normal” imperatives hurled at them ceaselessly by movies and TV, music, the Internet, social media and all the other instruments of popular culture.
What they might or might not learn in school sex-education classes is just the tiniest part of what they are bombarded with all day, every day. Parents who think if they “opt out” their job is done might want to consider locking their children in their rooms with no electronic media. That might work for a day or two. (And here’s a little secret. Indiana legislators removed sexual orientation and gender identify as topics parents must be notified of so they can opt out. Let’s have this conversation again when everyone figures out the implications of that.)
There should be no mystery about what “family values” are. The values are those we need to guide us through the moral pitfalls and self-defeating temptations of this world, to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. And the family is the first, best place to learn them.
Children need context for everything they learn. If they are armed with the knowledge that they are part of a loving family’s value system, that will guide them through anything, including whatever a sex-education class throws at them. If not, others outside the family will provide the context for them.
And there is no opting out of that reality.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is this year’s winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.