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Obama and Sex Education

September 17, 2008

The wars over sexual education in elementary schools may be heating up again, this time over Senator Barack Obama’s explanation that he voted for an Illinois sex education bill to protect small children from inappropriate touching. Maybe that was his reason, Byron York writes on National Review Online, but the 2003 bill was much more than that and was not “written to protect young children from sexual predators,” as campaign spokesman Bill Burton contended.

The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 99, generally followed the Comprehensive guidelines of the prominent promoter of sex education, the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States. SIECUS has been pushing for sex ed to start in kindergarten rather than in the 6th grade and calls for lessons on sexually transmitted diseases for the age group of 5 to 8-year-olds. The group’s basic philosophy is that each child is sexual from birth, so sexual education should start early. The Illinois bill followed SIECUS in dropping the start of sex ed to the kindergarten level. Though the bill called for sex instruction to be age-appropriate, it mandated instruction on HIV in all grades, including kindergarten. On some subjects, including alcohol and drug use, instruction would have begun in grade five. But on sexually transmitted diseases, no such delay was allowed. The prospect of 5-year-olds grappling with HIV obviously raises more questions than a mild lesson on good touching and bad touching. It also indicates that the John McCain ad criticizing Barack Obama for his support for the Illinois bill was not a “lie” as many commentators believed, but a reasonable, if minor, campaign issue.

A number of commentators opted to protect Senator Obama by citing only messages from the SIECUS guidelines that seem harmless for 5- to 8-year-olds. One on-line “reality check” cites these messages: bodies change as children grow older; everybody can be proud of their body (sic); individual bodies are different sizes, shapes and colors: girls and boys have many similarities and a few differences, boys and girls have different body parts: and It’s OK to say no to adults who are touching you or make you feel uncomfortable.”

None of the commentators, however, seem to have listed the more controversial SIECUS topics assigned for 5 to 8-year-olds, including these:

“Some boys and girls masturbate and others do not. Human beings can love people of the same gender and people of another gender. There are medicines that people with HIV or AIDS can take to help them stay healthier and live longer. A family consists of two or more people who care for each other in many ways, (Among 9- to l2-year-olds this becomes: Children may have a mother, a mother and a father, two mothers, two fathers or any other combination of adults who love and care for them.”)

There are also uncontroversial lessons that have nothing to do with health or sexuality: “Man and women are capable of doing almost all the same jobs. Some commercials, television shows, movies and magazines make people and things look different or better than they really are. Children sometimes have to do things they do not want to do because their parents or other adults say so.”

The above lesson points, it should be said, are from the SIECUS guidelines, not the Illinois bill backed by Obama. The bill remained vague about what the children would be taught, apart from “the latest medically factual information.” The text of the bill seemed to derive from feminist-inspired anti-harassment regulations, including stress on “male accountability for sexual violence,” and a warning about “visual sexual harassment” (a big issue among radical feminists but not among small children).The bill devoted considerable attention to homosexuality and complaints about males. In comparison, the protection of small children from predators was a minor theme.

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