Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sex Ed. & Religious Ed. - Contradicting Rationales

In an article in the Kansas City Star last Sunday, I read about an aggressive legislative agenda being pushed by conservative Republicans in Missouri. (Please forgive the use of labels, but I am using them for the sake of brevity. I could use a more descriptive term like "regressive" or something, but that probably would not facilitate dialogue ;) So "conservative" it is.) One of the things that jumped out was a seemingly contradicting rationale motivating two of the bills. If the rationale was to be consistent across the board, one of the two bills would need to go bye bye.

First, there is a bill to limit sex education in public schools.

The second is a bill to increase religious education in public schools.

So basically, we are going to end up with a bunch of pregnant teenagers who have the Bible memorized. (Hat tip to AC.)

The rationale for the first bill is, in a nutshell, "Leave it to the experts." The sponsor feels that human sexuality is a topic best taught by medical professionals. Young people are encouraged to go to their doctors to learn about sexually transmitted diseases, the pros and cons of birth control, and other basic biology.

Now, if this "leave it to the experts" rationale for the conservative agenda was consistent, there would be no bill to increase religious education in public schools, for the experts when it comes to religious education are in the church, the synagogue, the mosque. In fact, there would be a bill to restrict religious education and encourage young people to go to their clergy persons in order to learn about God, heaven, and other faith stuff.

I don't buy the "leave it to the experts" rationale at all. News flash #1: public school students are already having sex. News flash #2: public school students are already practicing religions. Young people are quickly becoming self-proclaimed experts in both subjects. So, you either teach about both topics OR you teach about neither.

You see, sex and religion fall into a category of topics that may or may not be considered "academic." And so, first question: "Should public schools focus exclusively on 'academic' subjects or expand to include other types of subjects?" Then the second question is: "What subjects are 'academic'?" Can you say sexual health is academic and religion is not? Or vice versa? If you want to teach religion as merely history, why not teach about sex as merely biology? If you don't want to teach sex because of moral reasons, why would you want to teach religion with all of its moral implications?

As for me, I am afraid that I am rather biased. I happen to think that the church (or synagogue or mosque, etc.) is the best place for young people to learn about God, and I happen to think that the family is the best place for young people to learn about sexuality. Not the public school. Problems arise, however, when the church and the family fail young people in this responsibility. I fear this happens all too often.

And this systemic failure is a disaster, because then the schools feel like they must pick up the slack, and they start burdening teachers with these undue expectations, and then teachers go on strike, and so no one learns how to read anymore, so no one ever writes any more blog entries about crap like this, and then how would I bore everyone with my opinions about stuff?

But seriously, though, the church needs to step it up a notch and take Christian education back from the public schools. It's our job, let us do it!


adam mustoe said...

"I don't buy the "leave it to the experts" rationale at all. News flash #1: public school students are already having sex. News flash #2: public school students are already practicing religions. Young people are quickly becoming self-proclaimed experts in both subjects. So, you either teach about both topics OR you teach about neither."

Snap! Well said. I also find the concept of "academic" subjects intruiging. I hope I spelled that right...anyways I've long been saying that some of the best thing's i've learned in school were social, not academic. As a formal psychology major, I felt like when those two worlds collided (eg. Pschology having all the answers to human behavior) it was a bad bad thing! This is a case of trying to legislate life by controlling education and that just won't happen as long as parents and churches keep delegating the responsibilities of teaching their children exclusivly to public schools.

Dr. Tony said...

With my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, I am not surprised that the Missouri Legislature would try to do some like this. After all, this is the same legislative body that once made it legal to kill Mormons.

When the Mormons came west, they first settled in the Kansas City area. Conflicts arose between those already living there and these newcomers (mostly about slavery; it was the early 1800's). These conflicts were temporarily settled by allowing the Mormons to settle in Davies County (a part of northwest Missouri about 100 miles for KC).

Their successes in revitalizing the land and the area continued to make many jealous. Ultimately, there was open violence between the Mormons and citizens of the state. In the end, a law was passed that allowed the persecution and murder of these early founders of the Mormon Church.

This was the "straw that broke the camel's back" and Mormons left the state, moving to Illinois and then on to Utah.

So it is that I am not surprised as to what the legislature is trying to; it only follows in the footsteps of the history of the legislature.

DogBlogger said...

Have you read any Stephen Prothero? He's got a new book coming out soon titled "Religious Illiteracy." Interesting viewpoint from a professor of religion that if our country knew more about other people's religions as well as their own, we could avoid big mistakes, from the Waco Branch Davidians to the Iraq War.

Andy B. said...

Dog, Yeah, Prothero's disctinction between teaching religion and teaching ABOUT religion is SO important, and one that many gloss over.
- AB

John said...

This is exactly why we should privatize government schools.

In government schools, there are always people trying to force their agendas on your kids.

With privatized schools, you can at least shop around for your agenda.

Ksqurred said...

I think that the church is a way for people to learn about God.. but can you truly understand your religion to the fullest, and be able to stand by it without knowing a thing about other religions? I think its wonderful that schools are trying to open the minds of people to show them that there isn't necessarily one right answer. Nobody knows. But anyway.. Not only are public school students havings sex, the private ones are as well.. but whatever..I never went to a private secondary school so I wouldn't know what they are doing. But yea.. Thats pretty much all I got on that

Michael said...

I guess I have the same problem with sex ed being taught as I would have with religion ed being taught: who is doing the teaching, and what are their credentials?

I grew up Catholic in a Protestant town. If people were being generous, they only thought Catholics were Jews. How many of these "teachers" would I care to have teaching my children about religion? ZERO

As for sex ed, my day produced films about VD (now they are called STD - is this progress??) and showed rather graphic pictures of certain infected body parts. I don't know about you, but these images crossed my mind a lot! We were not, however, taught how to "install" condoms or other devices. I'm not entirely comfortable with this, either.

Teen pregnancy statistics, however, tell us that SOMEONE needs to talk to children about this stuff. I am of the mind, however, that these are moral issues and not necessarily social ones. The church should indeed be teaching about this stuff, but it is clear that the church has all too often taken a "hey, it's your choice" kind of stance. And when a church virtually demands birth control as a "social responsibility", what sort of message does this convey?

I think I'll stop now.