Why NYC’s sex education plan is an opportunity for the church

Sex is the new hot topic in New York City public schools. Starting this year, all middle and high school students are required to take sex education courses that will not only teach students how to properly use a condom, but also explain risky sexual behavior in graphic detail. Parents have a choice to opt out of some portions of the syllabus, such as lessons on birth control, but not all classes.

In a letter to principals, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the school system had “an important role to play in regard to educating our children about sex and the potential consequences of engaging in risky behavior.” The new curriculum has sparked both outrage and applause.

Those that support sex ed claim it is long overdue and cite a laundry list of dreary statistics as evidence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey for 2007 showed that 46% of New York City high school students surveyed were sexually active by 9th grade. In the same survey, 9.4% of students admitted to being sexually active before the age of 13, 15.8% had been sexually active with four or more partners and 96.7% did not use a reliable form of birth control the last time they had had sex.

The administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has trumpeted mandatory sex education in middle and high school classrooms as a way to improve the lives of at-risk black and Latino teenagers. The sex lessons at school aim to reduce pregnancy, disease and ultimately high school dropout rates. While abstinence is taught, it is not the goal to stop kids from being sexually active, but rather to keep them safe when they do engage in sex.

On the other side of the fence are those who vehemently oppose the classroom sex ed plan, such as Robert P. George and Melissa Moschella, who wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times. They argue that a parent’s right to teach their child about sex is akin to choosing a religion - it is personal and sacred. Policies that give schools the power and responsibility for teaching kids about sex in school violate parents’ natural rights to actually parent. The op-ed goes on to say that “the right to parent is rather like the right to exercise one’s religion.”

While this may be true, the New York City public school system’s plan to mandate sex ed may be seen as necessary because too many parents have not lived up to their responsibilities to their children. Those that oppose sex ed in the classroom make a misguided assumption that all parents wish to parent, when the sad reality is that many parents, whether by choice or circumstance, are absent or simply disengaged from the lives of their children. When parents fail to provide values-based education at home, the government often assumes its right or self-imposed obligation to do so.

Neither the state nor public school teachers were meant to serve as parents. But as parents fail to teach and guide their children, public school systems will continue to expand their influence and tackle topics that were once reserved for private conversations with mom and dad. Mandatory sex ed in the public schools represents a failure of the family.

But Christians should see the introduction of mandatory sex ed in public classrooms as not just a reminder to exercise proper influence on their own children, but an opportunity to consider how the church can be a positive influence in this area. The same gloomy statistics that support sex education in public schools also point to the desperate need for the church to provide values-based education and support systems to youth and families. By offering proper support and Biblically based leadership, the Christian church can prepare parents to have those difficult but important conversations with their kids, rather than leaving sex ed as another subject to be tackled between algebra and social studies.

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The author of this article claims that New York parents aren’t providing “values based education” at home, that they are derelict in their duty. However, that is not true. These parents are providing lessons in values to their children every day. Selfishness, hedonism, sexual adventurism, alcohol abuse, the relative worthlessness of children, the pursuit of riches are all values that are being taught and modeled at home. The school district is stepping in to present sex without consequences, without love, marriage, children, morality or even negative consequences. It is better to kill babies in the womb than allow childbirth to interrupt and complicagte life or curtail sexual adventurism. They support the parent’s values. God loves the people of New York, and there are a segment of the the population that adhere to a healthy standard of Biblical righteousness, yet the city is every bit the mission field that the southern continents were in the 19th century. I agree with the author that “Christians should see the introduction of mandatory sex ed in public classrooms as not just a reminder to exercise proper influence on their own children, but an opportunity to consider how the church can be a positive influence in this area”, but this is a gross understatement. New York desperately needs a revival, evangelistic activity, repentance and a change of values (as do we all).

I believe it is o.k. as long as they don’t teach about sex outside of marriage as being o.k. and that they teach against homosexuality.

One of issues that Churches can look at is the guilt that accompanies sex for a Christian teen who gets carried away or is drugged and doesn’t recognize the signs. Date rape drugs are easier to miss that you would imagine. A teen can accept a couple glasses of wine or pop or a candy from a date they know and trust thinking they know their date only unknown to them the drink or candy is laced with something much more powerful. The guilt can be devastating spiritually because they may not realize the largest burden of sin was not theirs. Memory loss and hallucinations associated with some of these drugs make matters even worse.Educating young people about the warning signs of danger is essential to keeping our young people safe. Helping them identify when they are victims rather than sinners is also critical to their spiritual health.JMHO

I would argue that it’s not just parents who are “absent or simply disengaged from the lives of their children” who are not teaching their kids about sex. If parents feel awkward discussing sex with their children or don’t feel the information is appropriate, kids might be missing out on some key information. A parent who doesn’t support birth control or doesn’t support sexual activity between people who are not married to each other might not make a point of explaining how contraceptives work, finding it irrelevant to their child’s life. If that child (at some point) chooses to have sex, this gap in their education could certainly become an issue.

Thanks for pointing this out. A person who is raped is never to blame for what happened to him/her, but may experience the feeling of guilt or shame. I haven’t looked into New York’s new curriculum requirements, but I hope it will help provide students with a solid understanding of what it means to consent to sexual activity.

“Against homosexuality”? 

You want the public schools to impose your particular interpretation of your religion’s holy text on same-sex sexual acts on kids of other, or no, religion?

Public schools should remain neutral on all such questions, telling students that aside from the basic principle that all of those who participate in sexual acts must give consent (and, by extension, be legally capable of doing so), whatever additional morals or ethical beliefs they have about sex are not the school’s business.

If you want a school that teaches “against homosexuality,” spend your money on a private religious school. Don’t spend my taxpayer dollars imposing your beliefs on everyone.

Sex education is as much about the why’s as the how-to’s.  Almost anyone can teach the mechanics, but the why of sex is informed by moral values and world view—hardly within the purview of the state.  Furthermore, the moral relativism promoted by these programs misses the point entirely.  The primary problem of teen sexual activity is a moral one, not an educational one.

Sex education is as much about the why’s as the how-to’s. 

It is and it isn’t, though. It’s been shown that many abstinence-only sex education curricula have given false and misleading statistics about the efficacy of various birth-control methods for preventing pregnancy, or the efficacy of condoms for preventing STIs, in order to promote the abstinence agenda. If the “how-to’s” are lies designed to push the students in a certain direction, then it’s very much about the “how-to’s”—and about telling students the truth about these things.

Furthermore, the moral relativism promoted by these programs misses the point entirely.

I’d suggest that a position of moral relativism is the only position the state can take on sexual acts between consenting adults; if “moral values and world view” aren’t the purview of the state, then it must take a position that says that whatever decisions a person makes about sex are between them and whatever their values are, and the state has absolutely no interest in telling them what’s right and what’s wrong, beyond the basic principle of consent.

The primary problem of teen sexual activity is a moral one, not an educational one.

Given the number of teens who get pregnant or who get STIs because they didn’t use protection, at least some of whom went through sex-ed programs that misled them into believing that the protection was going to be less effective than it actually is, I’d suggest that it’s very much an educational problem as well.

There’s something a bit wonky about comparing sex ed to religion. Certainly parents have the right to raise their child as they see fit and impart values, but sex ed isn’t about values; it’s about facts. Sex ed can teach a conditional: If you do X, then the likely result is Y. It cannot teach whether we actually should do X, or that Y is worth avoiding - those are value judgments. But the scientific facts are not open to dispute, and an education that does NOT incorporate them is (in my opinion) an incomplete one.

Additionally, I am not sure how much control parents should have of their thirteen year olds’ religious affiliation. Certainly they have the responsibility to continue influencing the child. And they *do* have a lot of influence. But thirteen is when Jews go through the bar mitzvah. This is the age of accountability in most Christian traditions, too. Catholics go to first communion well before this age, and I know my parochial school went through confirmation in the eighth grade. (I wasn’t Catholic so wasn’t confirmed, though our religious studies class did the confirmation curriculum as a group.) Similarly it’s around this age that most Methodists are confirmed, and I assume the same holds for other Protestants. It’s the age of accountability, and I don’t think the parent gets to determine the values. Influence? Of course. But if a child rejects the Christian ethics (or embraces it when the parents don’t!), I don’t know how comfortable I am saying the child should *have* to follow the parent’s values at that age.

As a resident of New York City, I find this post highly offensive (and un-educated, for what that’s worth).

I live in the Little Italy section of the Bronx, where I’d say less than 10% of my neighborhood doesn’t attend worship service every week - most of them university students. The Catholic parish is the center of the neighborhood, and our Albanian-American population (maybe a quarter of my neighborhood)  is mostly Muslim, but religiously observant and they are regularly in the local mosque as well. I also teach at a Jesuit school where we have nightly mass that draws a fair-sized crowd (I attend Tuesday nights, and the chapel usually has 75-100 students - much more for the Sunday morning service). From what I hear from my fellow students who live in other boroughs, this is not exceptional. Many New Yorkers are from ethnic communities built around the church, mosque, or synagogue, and religious values are central to how they were raised. Of course, that is not always the case. But look at suburbia around the nation, and look at how many heartland Americans talk more about Ayn Rand than Jesus Christ in recent years.

A bigger problem than lack of morality and hedonism is poverty and lack of education, frankly. When the rent is so high and parents are tired - it is a hard lifestyle in which to raise a family. Most New Yorkers are decent and hard-working, in my experience. Frankly, I was a bit shocked to see a fellow Christian so willing to say things like this about his neighbor. I won’t say they’re *never* true (what community could?) but as a general rule, they just don’t fit. On behalf of the many families, students, and young professionals I worshiped beside this morning, I can’t help but feel a bit insulted, and so I apologize in advance if I am coming across as brusque.

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