McEntee: Let Utah voters, not lawmakers, decide on sex education for their kids
Sex education in Utah schools has always been regarded with deep suspicion in some quarters, most recently by Republican Rep. Bill Wright, the Sutherland Institute and, of course, the Utah Eagle Forum.
Now that merry band wants to eliminate any word of contraception in public and charter school health classes and focus exclusively on abstinence before marriage and fidelity after.
I'm sorry, but that's just nuts.
Are Wright, et al., aware that there are half a million children in Utah public and charter schools, and that not all of them have the kind of parents who can adequately explain human sexuality? That kids these days are immersed in sexual signals in books, theater, music, TV, movies and, probably, right in their own homes?
Or that sex education undoubtedly has saved many innocents from sexually transmitted disease and/or unwanted pregnancies and parenthood at far too young an age?
Wright's HB363 would mandate "abstinence-only" instructional materials and absolutely no talk about contraception as a way to prevent pregnancy and, equally important, sexually transmitted disease.
It also would ban any classroom discussion on "the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation or erotic behavior" or any advocacy of homosexuality, contraceptive methods or devices or sexual activity outside of marriage.
Much of that, by the way, is language toned down by the House Education Committee before it passed the bill to the full House. There's talk that, before the measure hits the floor, the original and more draconian language may be restored.
But Reps. Marie Poulson and Carol Spackman Moss, both Democrats and longtime teachers, know that kids today are exposed to all too much misinformation about sexuality from other kids.
"Nobody advocates for kids to go out and be promiscuous," Poulson says. "They're right in the middle of it all the time."
Moss says the flaw in the bill backers' argument is that abstinence-only "presents a danger to a lot of kids who should know how to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease.
"You can't teach abstinence without talking about sexuality and disease," she adds. "How do you talk about abstinence without knowing what you're abstaining from?"
Poulson, a former English teacher, also worries about the content of the world's greatest writing. Think "Hamlet" with its depiction of seduction and betrayal, or even To Kill a Mockingbird, with its story of a black man wrongly charged with rape and a brutal attack on the children who take his side.
All this brings to mind the words of my favorite English professor at the University of Utah: "All great literature is about sex and death."
Maybe we should pass a law requiring all parents, when a child is at a certain age, to sit down and have The Talk, and see how that goes. Or we can trust our school boards, teachers and PTAs to honor their moral obligation to keep kids safe through sex education, even if they have to scare the heck out of them to do it, as Moss put it.
How about we the voters do this: raise our voices and tell Wright, the Eagle Forum and the Sutherland Institute that it's not their job to decide what our kids need to know.
That's our job.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.
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