May 2, 2005

Should parents be barred from sitting in on school sex ed classes?

They are in this school district (where parents are otherwise free to sit in on classes). I understand the reasons given for the ban, but my mind is currently affected by the script of the "Proper Condom Use" episode of "South Park" (which I read yesterday when I was writing about Laura Bush's milking-a-male-horse joke). In case you can't bear to read through the script (which you might -- should -- find awfully disturbing), I'll quote the moral of the story (spoken by Chef):
Look: Schools are teaching condom use to younger and younger students each day! But sex isn't something that should be taught in textbooks and diagrams. Sex is emotional and spiritual. It needs to be taught by family. I know it can be hard, parents, but if you leave it up to the schools to teach sex to kids, you don't know who they're learning it from. It could be from someone who doesn't know [a shot of Mr. Mackey], someone who has a bad opinion of it [a shot of Ms. Choksondik looking around], or even a complete pervert [a shot of Mr. Garrison].

UPDATE: The Washington Times gets results!


Nick said...

I'm not even a parent and I think that this is totally wrong.

While I might understand how someone thought it was a good idea, I also think its totally unacceptable.

Dave said...

Tough one.

I think the parents have a legitimate interest in attending any and all public school classes, as they are paying the teachers for the work done, usually via excessive property taxes. On that basis, I see no reason to discriminate between sex ed classes and other subjects. If students are not paying taxes that enable them to receive a free (if shoddy) education then I see no reason why they should have any say in the matter.

(Whether the teachers' unions would like the idea of parents sitting in on classes is another question entirely. Whether kids want their parents sitting in on their classes is, to my mind, irrelevant.)

Ann Althouse said...

Well, do you like the idea of some other kids' parents listening in while your child is trying to ask a sensitive or embarrassing question? Which parents are going to be very interested in watching kids learn about sex? I'd be wary of that too.

Dave said...

Ann: I understand the concerns, and I'm sympathetic to them, but if we are to have a system of public education subsidized by taxpayers, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that those people subsidizing it would want to observe how their money is being spent.

If the concern is that children don't want adults present when they are learning about sex, then either jettison public education (a good idea in my book) or don't teach sex in public schools).

As I say, it's a tough issue, but my sympathies lie entirely with the overburdened taxpayer.

(I'd also argue the same for publicly financed colleges and universities. I'm sure you're a wonderful college professor, but I should be able to observe how my tax dollars are being spent.)

Nick said...

I'm sorry.. that just seems strange. You're saying that parents who are interested in what is being taught to their children are... what... pedophiles? What does that make the person who is teaching that stuff?

This didn't seem to be a case of them wanting to protect children from being embarassed... if it were then they wouldn't have done this (also from the article):

Teachers are "not providing the resource materials for parents to review," she said. In addition, parents were not allowed to take curriculum copies home.

Ann Althouse said...

Nick: I'm more against the school's decision than for it. I think there are good arguments on both sides. And though I don't think every teacher keen on teaching sex to kids and every parent eager to watch it is a pedophile, I worry that some are.

Timothy K. Morris said...

So, video tape the teacher giving the class, mute any questions by the students "looping," as they say in the movie biz,in another teacher's voice asking the question. Do the same with any discussion. Pain in the butt? Indeed, but probably a good project for a school district cable channel.

leeontheroad said...

oh, geez, so this is why this gets billing in the WashTimes.

"The curriculum, which was slightly revised last month, defines one's sexual identity as including gender identity, which is "a person's internal sense of knowing whether he or she is male or female." The instruction also includes the statement that "most experts in the field have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice."

You know, parents (and I am one) should teach their children not only "sex ed," in the sense of "basic plumbing" but also convery to children and adolescents their views on these hot button social issues, and the moral vision (we hope there might be one) behind those views. (My own moral visison includes opposition to promiscuity, acceptance of differences in sexual orientation and compassion for intersex and transsex folks.)

My children know a great deal about how their bodies work, not just from their public schools but from their home environment-- esp. direct discussions with their parents. They
also know I think that ALL schools, public or private, need to be able to accomodate the children of gay and lesbian parents, gay and lesbian students, and the folks who don't want to deal with these issues with their children, so they prefer the school to have a pink elephant in the room.

In short, I think it's wrong that the parents can't have resource materials; I think its wrong that parents aren't just arguing for an "opt out" option for an experimental curriculum; it's wrong for folks to be implying that the WashTimes quoted course description is so WRONG (objectively the quoted statements are ACCURATE); and it's wrong to think that each individual taxpayer is the BOSS of every individual public employee. Public employees (such as myself) are of course accoutable to the public, and that happens through a structure. In the case of a locally controlled school, that's the School Board. Don't like the curriculum? Change your school board and, meanwhile, talk to your children abotu what they are learnign in math, science and sex ed.

Kate Marie said...


To argue that individual taxpayers (especially those whose children are attending the schools that their taxes subsidize) have a right to be informed about the curricula/teaching that their money supports is not the same as arguing that each individual taxpayer is the "boss" of every individual employee.

I like Timothy's suggestion about videotaping classes.

Harkonnendog said...

South Park is wondeful, wonderful, wonderful. The way language is used today you almost have to have a South Park in order to really talk about any PC subject.

leeontheroad said...

Very true, Kate Marie. And I do think the school has a responsibility to inform parents about the curriculum. How best to go about that, in my view, is complicated when the basis for wanting to be informed is a "taxpayer right." First, I'll assume you don't mean that a parent who doesn't pay taxes (receives SSI or TANF) doesn't have the right to be informed about what his or her children are being taught. Conversely, I don't think a parent or non-parent has a "right" to, e.g., watch a videotape of a class his or her child isn't in. (There's soemthing vaguely creepy about someone who'd want to do so just because. . . they had a "right.")

Further, it seems non-sensical to base one's right in the taxes one pays and then endorse a solution that will require more dollars or at least more management of something that isn't directly tied to educating students. (Someone's got to do the taping, edit the tape, archive it and presumably keep track of it, unless you're comfortable with the idea of the tape being distributed beyond the school system.) Meanwhile, I suspect students would know, even if they as children didn't have a "right" to be told, that they were being videotaped. If they did know, any "chilling effect" would likely be in play, while the hams and class clowns would have a (n additional) reason to obstruct instruction.

Wouldn't it just be simpler to insist on knowing what's in the curriculum? Some of this must be known if a newspaper can quote parts of it. And insist on having access to the written details? And also exercise one's responsibility as a parent to discuss the child's education with the child?

If our children are in school, we delegate aspects of our responsibility to educate our children to others. But at no point do I CEDE that responsibility.

At base I'm suspicious of arguments that overemphasize individual rights by both failing to mention individual responsibility and /or only scrutinizign the responsibilities of public employees.