I tend to find posts by Matt Walsh of the themattwalshblog.com post an interesting read. I find it a bit telling that he markets his blog as “absolute truth” among other things, when nearly all of his pieces reflect his opinions and nothing more. While, I tend to disagree with his overall attitudes (many of which I find atrocious), I find he usually does not want to force them on others (at least not through the state) and that he occasionally makes a decent point here and there. With this in mind I found today’s entry on sex education and felt like responding to it.
In this piece, Matt argues that we simply should not have sex education in public schools. He argues that sex is such a value laden topic, that it should not be taught as an independent subject. Apparently he seems to have no problem with the basic mechanics of sex being taught in biology or anatomy, but concepts such as “Oral sex, sexual fantasy, touching each other’s genitals, anal sex, vaginal intercourse, grinding, masturbation” apparently can never be mentioned in school. He thinks that sex should be treated, as he puts it “the same way most people think it ought to treat religion, and for the same reasons”. Specifically, he says “They shouldn’t advance any religious agenda” and “they shouldn’t attempt to influence the religious beliefs or practices of the students”. He does however recognize that religion and sex will inevitably be discussed in relation to other subjects, but argues that there should not be classes dedicated exclusively to these topics.
First of all, I have a lot to be critical of, when it comes to the concept of public schools in general, and to an extent I sympathize with Matt for not being comfortable with the state teaching kids, what he believes are value laden sexual lessons. However, if we take for granted the assumption that the US should even have a public school system (which Matt does), than Matt’s case is actually quite weak.
For one, most separation of church and state advocates, that I know, have little problem with self-contained classes on comparative religion or specific religions, so long as the material is taught in a value-neutral manner. It seems to me, kids can easily be taught what different religions believe without any of them being asserted as the correct one (Matt acknowledges that this will happen in other classes, anyway). Furthermore religion is such a major factor in our culture, that having some knowledge of what different ones believe, is undoubtedly a useful thing. I don’t believe Matt makes the case that sexuality needs to be treated any differently. It is undeniably an important and interesting subject, and if it is (as Matt admits) going to be brought up in science classes, then why should it not be the subject of it’s own class? (Not that have heard of this ever being the case. As I understand it is usually a relatively short lesson, within a semester long health class that touches many other subjects.)
Furthermore, if one is going to teach about the basic biology of sex, then why is acknowledging the existence of various sexual behaviors, or ways to protect one’s self from disease or pregnancy off limits? I doubt Matt would have any objection to a biology lesson about reptiles, including material on how to avoid being bit by venomous snakes. With this in mind, why does he object to a biology lesson about what causes pregnancy teaching ways to avoid pregnancy? Furthermore, if one is going to teach the bare biology of sex, it would seem arbitrary to exclude the existence of STD’s or ways to avoid them. Once you grant (as Matt does) that it is acceptable for the public school system to teach about a subject like religion in a factual, value-neutral manner, it is hard to make a case for arbitrarily excluding a similar treatment to any other subject.
That said, I acknowledge the issue of age appropriateness. Last I checked, we do not teach first graders about the horrors of World War Two. However, once people start developing sexual feelings, they should be able to learn what these feelings are, their biological functions and about the risks associated with acting on them (as well as how to avoid these risks). Simply put, once you develop sexual feelings, sex is very much an age relevant subject. Furthermore, once you grant that public schools can teach art, theater, history, literature, biology, or anything above and beyond reading, writing and math, you cannot exclude sex education without arbitrarily singling this topic out.
Matt generally defends his having signaled out this topic (as forbidden) on the basis of his own personal feelings and nothing more. Assertions like “How many times in a given school day should the phrase “genital touching” be uttered by a teacher to a classroom of students? None.” are not arguments. He also says “If an adult in ANY OTHER CONTEXT came up to your child and tried to strike up a conversation about ”self-pleasure” or “oral sex,” you’d likely have … uh… “words”… with him, and then words with the police.” That may be true, but if the same adult approached my kids and started discussing the holocaust, I’d do the same, and yet I don’t see Matt arguing that we should not be teaching history in public schools, despite it being just much of an ideology driven subject.
Matt goes on to blame the “comprehensive sex education” for in out-of-wedlock pregnancies, STDs, rape ect. As I understand it, these social ills actually do not tend to be regionally correlated with comprehensive sex education, but with abstinence only sex education. In other-words, states that require abstinence only sex education do worse in these areas than states with more comprehensive sex education. Which makes sensee, if people are kept in the dark about avoiding diseases and unintended pregnancies, than these issues will be more common.
The overall problem is that Matt seems to think that one cannot teach kids about the mere existence of condoms or masturbation without assigning a value judgement. I disagree. He mistakes teaching young adults how to avoid pregnancy with endorsing this or that form of sexual behavior, which strikes me as fallacious. While I agree with Matt’s sentiment “Let parents teach the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” of sex, and let churches moralize and sermonize about it” I do not believe he makes a coherent case for banishing sex education from public schools (and note this coming from someone who questions whether we should even have public schools in the first place).