Every year as kids head back to school, parents across the country must decide whether to opt their children out of the local public schools' version of sex education curriculum, or simply go with the flow. While it may be natural to assume that the opt-out is an aberration reserved for the hopelessly old-fashioned or most extremely religious parent, it's time to reconsider that assumption.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that as of 2016, 24 states and the District of Columbia required public schools to incorporate sex education into their curriculum. An even higher number – 35 states – require schools to allow parents to opt their kids out of this curriculum when it is offered, and another four states require parents to affirmatively opt their children in to it. But according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, the opt-out rate is consistently low in every state where sex ed is taught, ranging from less than 1 percent to 5 percent.
When the vast majority of society's youth are taught about sex from a purely academic, scientific perspective that is devoid of moral and religious instruction, the result is a society with an impoverished view of sex as merely a casual, physical, recreational transaction. Nothing good can result from that.
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Of course, there will always be a segment of the parent population that simply doesn't care much about how or what their kids are being taught. Then there is another segment of parents who do care, but generally share the secular worldview promoted in public schools. They have no qualms about their kids receiving purely pragmatic instruction about how to engage in sexual activities while minimizing the risks of pregnancy and disease, nor about the presentation of human sexuality as a matter of limitless, morally equivalent "choices."
But for the huge population of families who understand that human sexuality is inherently charged with significant moral implications, the sex ed decision can be excruciatingly difficult. Those who are doing their jobs well are already giving their kids the education they need; not simply avoiding the topic altogether, but rather presenting the information in a sensitive, serious, age-appropriate way and including both scientific information and moral context. They are setting themselves up – not some government employee – as their child's confidants and counselors when that child has questions or confronts sexual temptations.
Unfortunately, these parents face a mountain of countervailing concerns when they consider choosing the opt-out. For starters, will their child be stigmatized by classmates as some sort of weird extremist? Or will she be subjected to subtle forms of punishment by a disgruntled teacher or administrator who would rather not deal with the complications involved in establishing alternative arrangements for opted-out students?
In other words, peer pressure is enormous when it comes to the decision families must make about how, when and where their children will learn about sex. I propose we harness the power of this peer pressure and exert it in the opposite direction. Instead of abdicating sex education to government employees or competing with their messaging, America's active parents should take this responsibility back for themselves. We should strive toward making public-school sex education "opt-outs" the norm rather than the exception. I believe this would happen if more parents thought critically about the issue.
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Opting-out doesn't – and shouldn't – mean that a parent wants her kids to be ill-informed or ill-prepared for life in a sexually charged culture. It doesn't even necessarily mean the parent has an absolute moral objection to sex before marriage or homosexuality. What it does mean is that the parents are willing to embrace their own roles as the primary nurturers, teachers and moral leaders of their children.
I sympathize with the plight of today's public school teachers and administrators, and my goal here is not to criticize them. They are standing in the gap for kids whose parents are asleep at the wheel, and they face increasing pressure to present all lifestyles and choices as equally valid.
We parents need to lower the stakes by doing our job and reasserting our influence. We need to make opting-out of public school sex education the norm, and then be faithful to teach our kids well at home. By simply fulfilling our responsibilities to our own children, we can collectively elevate the morality, sensibility, and decency of the culture we bequeath to them.