“Let’s talk about sex, baby / Let’s talk about you and me / Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be,” pop group Salt-N-Pepa sang about 20 years ago. OK, sure. But must we do it in middle school? And in such depth?
Those are the questions many parents, and some lawmakers, are asking following the release of the city’s new sex education curriculum. Like them, we agree that while sex ed is important and certainly has its place in the schools, some of what is to be taught crosses a line that only parents and guardians should be allowed to cross.
The curriculum would begin in middle school, so we’re talking children as young as 10. According to what’s been reported, one way they’ll be introduced to sexually transmitted diseases is this: They’ll be given “risk cards” that graphically name a variety of sex acts so they can learn how relatively dangerous each is to their health. The cards include acts such as intercourse using a condom, mutual masturbation and ... well, we’re not going to mention all of them. Suffice it to say that at least a few of them were still illegal in some states within living memory. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but ...
The city is obviously quite willing to intrude on the relationships between children and their parents at too young an age. These are kids in sixth through eighth grade, not post-pubescent high schoolers.
Of course the high school students will get even greater opportunities to explore topics their parents might rather they shied away from. They’ll be assigned, for example, to go to some nearby store and take notes on condom brands and the features different ones offer.
Remember when you were their age, and you tried to buy those condoms as subtly as possible and get out of the store before anyone you knew happened to walk in? We don’t think you have to be a prude or a Victorian to wonder if anyone has any shame — scratch that, how about any dignity? — anymore. Of course you shouldn’t expect any from a city government that actually held a contest to design the wrapper for its own brand of condoms.
But believe it or not, even in 2011, there are people out there who believe that sexual relationships and even the love that (sometimes) drives them are highly personal matters. And there are many parents here who find the city’s planned curriculum to be offensive.
For some, that’s just because it intrudes on their territory, letting the birds and the bees fly long before planned. Others may have a religious reason to object, which must be respected. In Queens, so often touted as the epitome of diversity, we have many families in which girls must cover their hair, for example. And families in which men and women do not touch one another unless they’re married. And families in which premarital sex is considered sinful.
We’re not saying such families — conservative Muslims, Hasidic Jews and traditional Catholics, respectively, in this example —should have a veto over what gets taught. But what they should have is a strong, parent-friendly opt-out provision. The fact that they don’t is one reason why Community Education Council 24 in southwestern Queens passed a resolution opposing mandatory sex ed over the summer. We don’t need the chaos of education panels opposing education policy. The city should let parents opt out, or maybe even force them to opt, in if they want their children exposed to this curriculum.
One last thought: Do things like the field trips to the pharmacy demonstrate that schools do indeed have time to do more than just “teach to the test” as we keep hearing?