Culture At Large

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

Amy Adair

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.

(Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.)

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, News & Politics, Social Trends, Education, North America, Home & Family, Sex, Parenting