Persuasive Argument: Sex Education Should Be Available in Public Schools
While it may seem that teaching sex education is a debate from previous generations, the reality is that, for many parents and communities, it is still a highly controversial issue. It is believed that incidents of school-age children engaging in sexual practices are increasing, as the media continually reports that the ages of these young people are decreasing. Opponents to sex education feel that the courses themselves empower this trend. The reality, however, is different: studies made by the Center of Disease Control in the 1990s, for example, reveal that fewer adolescents are having sex than in previous years (Males 90), and this is likely due to the influence of sex education itself. More importantly, in an age when HIV remains a dangerous element, it is essential to educate children about the very real threats to health and life posed by unprotected sex. Teaching sex education, finally, is never a means of encouraging sex, and concerned parents are still responsible for giving their children the values they believe they must have. Sex education in public schools is, first and foremost, education, and is therefore an obligation of the American school system.
Seizing upon that last point, there is no moral or religious component to sex education at all, except that which opponents often seek to add to it. It cannot be argued that the school system exists to prepare young people for adult life, and this often takes forms removed from traditional “education”. For example, schools typically have driver education classes, which are in place not to urge the students to drive, but to teach them how to do it safely. Education in all arenas of society is very much built into public schools, and the inescapable reality is that sexuality is a part of adult life. As the school is responsible for providing children with the information they need to decide on careers and learn the basics in general areas of knowledge, so too must it inform children of the facts regarding sex. Education here is, again, no more and no less than that.
Many seem to feel that this education must create in young people urges to experiment. There is, however, no evidence to support that teaching sex education encourages active sexuality, and many states are developing legislation that addresses this fear from opponents. In 2007, for instance, Colorado required that some discussion of abstinence as a choice be included in its schools sex education; similarly, in Washington, a bill was passed making it illegal to present abstinence as the only recommended choice or decision (Bruess, Greenber 33). This appears to be a response to those fearful of moral decline, and one that emphasizes that the moral components of the issue are beyond the school’s authority. More rationally, it is unlikely that any school today would seek to encourage students into engaging in sex, simply because such a grossly irresponsible behavior would certainly have disastrous consequences on the school itself.
Before HIV and AIDS became national concerns in the 1980s, the major reason for promoting sex education was to curtail teen pregnancies. People were fearful of the risks of sexually-transmitted diseases, but none were perceived as life-threatening (Magoon 24). Today, even as new medications greatly ease fears that HIV must be fatal, this disease demands that young people understand the real risks of unprotected sex. This is, in fact, removed from morality, and it is all the more the obligation of the schools to educate children for their own safety.
Opponents to sex education tend to feel that this is not “education” at all, but an intrusion from the schools into an arena of private, or family, life. Sexual activity is rarely apart from ethical or religious belief systems; consequently, the assertion that morality is removed from teaching about it is inherently false. Young people, it is felt, are very vulnerable to peer pressures and easily swayed into wrong judgments. Teaching these children about sex, then, tacitly goes to promoting experimentation, or at least creating greater confusion in impressionable minds.
Also, many who oppose sex education are suspicious of the characters of the teachers to whom it will be entrusted. This is, no matter how clinically it is presented, a highly sensitive subject. Moreover, teachers wield great influence over students, who often seem them as more deserving of respect than their own parents. Consequently, an extremely progressive teacher would then have the power to convince young people that casual sex is acceptable, if not desirable, as long as precautions are taken (Rogers 73). Even if issues of morality are removed from the instruction, a kind of morality is still being put forth; as the teacher is telling the children how to safely engage in sex, this may easily be interpreted as a “green light”. Teachers must never have authority in so personal a matter.
Lastly, that schools acknowledge the need to discuss abstinence is itself a damaging aspect of sex education, because abstinence implies a choice made by moral decision-making. When the school offers it as one of several options, it is then making a moral stand; it is saying that abstinence is not necessarily the wisest course to take, and this directly defies parental authority. For example, the parents who spend years in convincing their children of the benefits of abstinence are undermined because, in school, an authority is telling them that there are other choices to be considered.
That many parents and communities have serious concerns about sex education is perfectly understandable. As noted, it is no ordinary subject. It is a very sensitive one, particularly as students are nearing or undergoing the turbulent years of puberty. Then, it is also natural that parents would be concerned about moral influences that may contradict what they teach their own children. Ultimately, however, opponents to sex education must accept that it is no school’s interest to encourage sexual activity in students, as it is the system’s responsibility to provide information. In an age when unprotected sex could lead to dangerous illness, it is all the more critical that society acknowledge this effort from the schools as constructive. All other considerations aside, sex education in public schools is education, and it is therefore an obligation of the American school system.