Sex education is a hotly and often bitterly debated topic in many school districts across the United States. There are arguments in favor of sex education in schools and arguments against sex education in schools. However, before any of those arguments can be considered sex education must be defined.
What is Sex Education?
It is difficult to define sex education since each school district has a different sex education curriculum that is in part influenced by the parents and school administrators in the school district’s community.
By considering all of the public opinions, each district tries to determine what appropriate sex education is for teens in its community. For some communities that means teaching students about the changes that happen to their bodies during puberty and promoting abstinence until marriage. Other communities interpret appropriate sex education to be comprehensive sex education and talk about safe sex, birth control, HIV / AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
When considering the arguments for and against sex education in school it is important to remember these differing definitions of sex education and how the arguments might be applied to different sex education curriculum.
Comprehensive Sex Education
Some communities favor comprehensive sex education. This means that students are taught about sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, pregnancy and abstinence. Students in these programs are taught about the possibility of waiting until marriage to have sex and of remaining abstinent until then. Students are also taught that if they choose to have sex that they should use contraception in order to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDS. Some comprehensive sex ed programs go as far as to have students practice putting condoms on bananas. What specialty classses should I consider for my child.
Abstinence Only Sex Education
The communities who favor abstinence only curricula would likely be horrified at the thought of public school students putting condoms on bananas. These communities rarely teach anything on the subject other than a quick mention in a health or physical education class that people should not have sex until they are married.
The Arguments in Favor of Sex Education in Public Schools
There are several arguments in favor of sex education in schools. First, many people argue that children are increasingly exposed to sexual ideas in the media and in public areas of our society. Accordingly, they need to be taught about appropriate sexual behavior before there is an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease is contracted.
Further, supporters of sex education argue that many parents are uncomfortable or not capable of having a comprehensive talk about sex with their kids. Therefore, these kids grow up confused and have dangerous and often self destructive behavior that could have been prevented with proper sex education. They rely on their friends and on the medial portrayal of sex for their information. Supporters of public school sex education argue that it is better for students to learn it from a teacher and ideally also from a parent than by other means.
The Arguments Against Sex Education in Public Schools
One of the primary arguments against any sex education in public schools is that sex education is a topic that is best left to parents to teach their children. Both urban and suburban school districts are becoming increasingly diverse and with that diversity come different family values and religious beliefs. Therefore, supporters of this argument contend that the school district should not try to impose the values of the majority on all children and instead should stay completely silent on the subject.
More school districts are beginning to debate adding homosexuality to their high school sex education curriculum. As with all others of sex education, people have strong opinions on the topic. Some people argue that students are exposed to homosexuality in the media and may have questions about what they see or about their own sexuality and that a sex ed teacher is a good person to handle those questions. Other people argue against adding homosexuality to the curriculum because of religious or moral objections or because they believe that all sex education should remain in the home.
Every state has different requirements about how sex education is taught to students. It is a subject that is likely to continue to be debated for many years to come as school districts grapple with some very difficult decisions about their proper role in the sex education debate.
The Importance of Health Education K-12
Health education is one of those subjects that make some people nervous and instantly ready for a debate no matter which side of the debate they are on. However, those people are often thinking about health education solely as drug prevention and sex education and that is not always accurate. Health education may include subjects such as the dangers of drugs and the use of birth control at certain grade levels but it also includes much more than that. A well designed health education curriculum is important for children at all grade levels from kindergarten through 12th grade and is required to be taught by public schools in almost all of the states in the U.S. Early childhood education and its development.
Preschool and Elementary School Health Education
Often, students’ first exposure to this subject matter is in preschool. Health education plays an important role in most preschools. Students are taught the importance of personal hygiene. Teachers remind them to wash their hands after using the bathroom and before eating. Often, preschools have units on oral health and the importance of brushing one’s teeth. Most preschools teach children about dressing appropriately for weather conditions and help them with the fine motor skills necessary to undo a button, zip a coat and tie a shoe.
Often, the preschool health education curriculum is continued into the early elementary school years. The elementary school years might also include safety information. For example, many children are taught to stop, drop and roll in case of fire. Some students are taught the importance of wearing bike helmets and the rules of the road. Other students are taught how to be safe and careful in large urban areas.
Secondary School Health Education
Health education at the high school level is often combined with the physical education curriculum. The content of the health education course varies from state to state and from school district to school district. Some states and some school districts within those states have different curriculum on things such as drug and alcohol abuse and sex education.
However, other important aspects of health are also included in the health and physical education curriculum. Students are taught the importance of exercising and of maintaining a healthy weight. Nutrition may also be emphasized in a health class. Students may be taught about the food pyramid and portion control as a way to staying healthy and fit.
Students are also taught how to protect themselves from illnesses and disease. For example, they may be taught to recognize the symptoms of depression. They may be taught how to protect themselves from the spread of disease.
Is Health Education Mandatory if My Child Attends Public School?
Some starts do provide parents with the right to opt out of health education classes that have to do with sexual education. Many of those states require the school district to notify parents prior to beginning any instruction related to sex education. Parents can then notify the school of their refusal to let their child participate in the sex education portion of the health curriculum. The student would still need to participate in all other areas of the health curriculum.
Continuing Health Education
Health education is one of those subjects that remains important throughout one’s life. It does not end with high school graduation. Recently, more and more employers and health insurance companies are recognizing the importance of continuing health education. They are offering employees and plan participants the opportunity to participate in continuing health education courses and providing written material on different health topics that can be studied at home.
Continuing health education often focuses both on preventive care and on the warning signs of health problems. The focus is more on medical issues than on safety and sex education issues as it was in grade school.
Why is Health Education Important?
Health education is about more than sex and drugs. It is about protecting one’s body and learning the skills necessary to stay healthy. Ultimately, a healthy life is what most parents want for their children. As a society, it is what we collectively want so that the costs of health insurance and missed work days are minimized. For these reasons, health education is an important part of the K-12 curriculum.
Does Your Child Attend a Safe School?
Many parents worry about their children when they send them off to school in the morning and they wonder if they are sending their children to a safe school. While it is natural for parents to be concerned, many schools are making great strides in protecting children. Each year schools are implementing more preventive programs and refining their discipline procedures to make sure that schools are as safe as possible.
Safety is, of course, important to protect children from physical harm. However, children also need to feel that they are safe so that they are able to concentrate on their school work and not on protecting themselves.
• Conflict Resolution: conflict resolution teaches children how to problem solve using their verbal communication skills and not violence. Often lessons in conflict resolution include information about self discipline, gaining self composure, critical thinking and effective communication. There are many different curricula available to help classroom teachers and counselors teach conflict resolution to students at different grade levels. Four of the common strategies that are used are peer mediation, Process Curriculum, Peaceable Classrooms and Peaceable Schools. The skills gained by the students help them not only to make their school environment safer but also teach them valuable conflict resolution skills for the rest of their lives.
• Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention: There are many different formal programs available to help schools prevent drug abuse among their students. These programs are age appropriate and can start in first grade. Effective strategies in the elementary school include promoting students’ bond to the school and peers and involving parents in the process or preventing drug abuse and violence. These strategies continue into the middle and high schools were students are also taught about the effects of drugs and alcohol on their bodies and about the legal and school consequences for using illegal substances.
• Bullying: many studies have shown that bullying is a significant problem in most schools and across all grade levels. A student who is being bullied can suffer from low self esteem, fear and poor academic grades as his or her school time is usually dominated by the fear of bullying rather than academic work. Therefore, it is important that bullying be stopped. Many schools find that role playing is an effective way to prevent bullying. It helps those who do the bullying understand how their actions make other people feel. It helps those who are being bullied understand how to communicate with a bully and when to seek the help of a teacher or administrator.
Safe and Drug Free Schools and Community Act
The federal government supports state and local governments in their effort to keep schools safe. Since 1994, the federal government has had a Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Community Act that provides grant monies to local school districts and community groups that seek to keep children safe from violence and drugs with preventive programs and services. The money is available for students in preschool through grade 12.
Discipline Makes for a Safe School
Discipline is seen as a last resort to keep schools safe. However, school officials are hopeful that there is a deterrent aspect to discipline. In other words, they hope that students will be so afraid of suspension, expulsion or other disciplinary measures that they will act appropriately in school.
In order for a discipline policy to have the desired preventive effect, it must meet several criteria. First, it must be clearly written so that students and parents understand the consequences for specific action. There is no need for formal wording or legalese in the discipline code. Second, school administrators and teachers must make sure that students understand the discipline code. This is often accomplished with a beginning of the year assembly where the principal explains the school rules, followed by each classroom or homeroom teacher reviewing the rules with his or her class. Most schools now require parents to sign a paper that they have reviewed the discipline code and student handbook themselves and with their children.
Further, the discipline code must have appropriate consequences for violations of the code and it must be uniformly and fairly enforced. That way students will understand that in order to benefit from a safe school, the discipline code must be followed.