January 10 2012
School Choice Can End the Battle Over Sex Ed
Carrie L. Lukas
Many people’s first instinct when reading about the guidelines on sex education in public schools is to consider whether they agree with the specifics of the proposal: Do I think that all eighth-graders should be familiar with emergency contraception and that fifth-graders should be able to define sexual harassment? Those are among the recommendations in a new report that was released by a consortium of health and education groups, which is receiving criticism from others who believe that abstinence should be a larger focus of all sex-education courses.
Yet course content really isn’t — or shouldn’t be — the main question. The real question is who gets to make the decision about what sex-ed curriculum a child is exposed to?
The problem with our current system isn’t that sex-ed classes lean too far in one direction or another. It’s that most parents have little control over such decisions because their child is assigned to a public school and has few options other than to enroll their child in that school. If parents had more control over such decisions — for example, if they had control of the $10,000 that is, on average, spent on each child in a public K–12 school and could use that money to pay tuition at any school they want — then they could select a program that reflects their values.
Sex-ed-curriculum decisions are mostly seen through a culture-war lens — are we going to emphasize the importance of abstinence or condom-use to the next generation? — but it’s a war that could be largely defused if we all agreed to disagree and let parents make decisions about what’s right for their children.