According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are only 22 US states, including the District of Columbia, that require sex education to be taught in public schools. Though sex education has been a controversial topic for years, it has recently been catching the eye of reporters in a slightly different context as before. It seems that events this year have prompted some student pushback on legislation against comprehensive sex education in the classroom, making this a type of youth movement within the field of education policy.
Just this week in Kansas, recent legislature bills were proposed that would require students to obtain parental signatures before receiving sex education in schools. Law enforcers sought an “opt-out policy,” where students and/or parents could decide not to partake in sexual education classes. The proposal currently reads: “No board of education of any unified school district shall provide instruction on health and human sexuality to a student, unless written consent has been received from a parent or legal guardian.”
Parents seemed to be outraged by the potential for their students to learn sexual information, while college students felt quite the opposite. On Monday, college students from all over Kansas came together to lobby against the bills, highlighting the importance of sex education in schools. Students argued that parental consent for this type of education would be difficult. How can a student approach their parents about this issue? Why should kids be put under this pressure to learn valuable information? There should be a safe place for students to talk about these sensitive topics other than their homes, where parents may censor what their children are exposed to. The argument continues over whether the school board should make decisions on sex education or whether it should be up to the legislature. It seems that this piece of a student’s education remains up in the air.
This issue is not just affecting Kansas. This week in Kentucky, about 50 high school students rallied at the capital to voice their concerns and demand more comprehensive sex education, claiming that it would “reduce dating violence and prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians.” It has been proven that effective sex education can delay the initiation of sex, reduce the frequency, reduce sexual partners, and increase contraceptive use. This is especially important for Kentucky, a state that has the eighth highest teen pregnancy rate in the United States and spends almost $150 million for teen pregnancy related costs. Kentucky’s youth are actively fighting against a traditionally conservative General Assembly, taking control over their own education as well as the education of many others.
A third state that has been in the news about a similar issue this week is Tennessee, where lawmakers have been ridiculing students at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville for hosting “Sex Week.” Sex Week features “a series of lectures about sexuality and sexual health, discussions about sexual violence, dance classes, a drag show, an art show and a poetry slam.” There are also discussions about abstinence and safe sex practices. In past years, state lawmakers have cut state funding to the university because of this week, and students had to rely on private fundraising to keep their vision alive. The week remains a hot topic: students and alumni believe that it is important in providing information, advocacy and resources to the students, and lawmakers believe that the school is wasting their money on provocative and unnecessary causes.
As a student who was lucky enough to grow up with comprehensive sex education, I can definitely see its value. Schools should serve students in more than just a traditional academic sense: students need to learn about situations that they will face as they enter into adulthood. Of course, this topic must be handled with delicacy and care, as it stirs up many sensitive political and religious views. The fact that the youth are speaking their minds around the country proves that we, the student generation, want to learn about this information, and think that others deserve to learn it too.
Sex education is an important part of a student’s overall learning process, and has a great potential to influence students’ future decision making. I am happy to see that youth are taking a stance against these state legislatures and lawmakers. Youth movements around the country are definitely making some noise about these issues, driving change and hopefully creating a generation of more tolerant young adults. My only hope is that those with the funds and power put their political differences aside and see that this type of education is necessary in schools.