Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"Children will not change the values their parents taught them..."

Some of us who support the revised MCPS health curriculum are new to the sex ed debate. Our initial support was based on a grounding in some basic relevant facts, and very quickly, we have had to educate ourselves on the statistical impact of various approaches, to learn about what actually works in preventing teen pregnancies and STDs, and creating a more inclusive environement for all of our students.

But some, like the writer of the following article in today's Gazette, are not so new to this debate:
Charles P. Gershenson of Bethesda is the retired research director of the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who, in 1965, initiated the national federal program to keep pregnant teenagers in school and provide sex education to all students. The first such school was in Washington, D.C.

Here's what he has to say about why we need this curriculum:
Four decades ago, the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiated a series of evaluative studies to provide education and health services to pregnant students.

During the 1960s, schools expelled pregnant students -- married or unmarried -- and school re-admission after delivery was prohibited. A very small proportion of these students received home-bound instruction.

The prevailing attitude of school administrators and parents was that a pregnant student was socially contagious and that pregnancy would spread among the students. There was no evidence to support the "contagion" theory but personal attitudes and myths were used as the basis for the misguided decisions of school systems nationally to deprive pregnant teenagers, soon-to-be mothers, of their education.

The cultural lag between the knowledge base of teenage sexual behavior developed in the 1960s and the Montgomery County Public Schools' new curriculum on sex education lasted four decades, though the dispute concerning sex education curriculum continues ("Group wants homosexuality, condoms out of curriculum," Dec. 1 story).

Repeatedly over the years the critics claimed that parents have the responsibility for sex education while ignoring the many studies indicating that few parents discuss sexual values and behavior with their children. Children benefit when their parents do engage in an informed discussion of the moral and ethical issues; children suffer when simply told horror stories.

Children will not change the values their parents taught them as a consequence of a group discussion of morals and behavior. They can contribute to strengthening moral values that encourage abstinence among peers. Knowledge of contraception and homosexuality will not alter their family's teaching.

Compared to the few hours of a course on sexual behavior, adolescents today are subjected daily to a barrage of sexual messages in the press, movies, songs, television, advertisements, cell phone and the computer. Parents cannot stop this sexual orientation to our free market society where sexual symbolism sells everything from pharmaceuticals to football games.

Education is the responsibility of the schools whether it is about smoking, alcohol, drugs, violence, racial diversity or sex. The assumption that these are the sole responsibility of someone else is a disservice to our children. Parents have a key role in the total education of their children in partnership with the schools. But too many parents fail part of their responsibility resulting in this country's highest teenage pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. As sex education has increased over the decades the teenage birth rate has declined and no longer are teen mothers punished by denying them an education.

The school board is to be commended for its wisdom and courage in implementing a curriculum that prepares today's children to meet the many moral and social challenges they will face as teenagers and adults.

In the Gazette: When moral values, sex education collide


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